BBC Three will return to the airwaves on February 1 with African Cup of Nations football in its first week back on TV
- BBC Three will return with African Cup of Nations and RuPaul’s Drag Race
- Channel moved online-only in 2014, despite showing Killing Eve and Fleabag
- Move saved reported £30m, but viewing figures dropped nearly 90 per cent
- Relaunched BBC Three will be ‘multi-genre offering’ and air from 7pm nightly
BBC Three will return to the airwaves at the beginning of February with coverage of the African Cup of Nations football tournament during its first week back on TV.
The channel was moved online in March 2014, with the broadcaster claiming young viewers had abandoned traditional viewing, despite it being the home of hit shows such as Gavin and Stacey, Killing Eve and Fleabag.
The decision saved the BBC a reported £30 million, but research revealed last year that viewing minutes dropped by nearly 90 per cent after the channel was taken off TV screens.
Its popularity, especially among younger audiences, saw a resurgence over lockdown, though, thanks to hit shows including RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and Normal People.
And now BBC Three will return as a broadcast channel on February 1.
It will air from 7pm every night on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat, while continuing to be available on iPlayer.
The channel will host the semi-finals and final of the Africa Cup of Nations live on free-to-air TV in its launch week, with coverage hosted by football pundit Jermaine Jenas.
The broadcaster also previously announced that its launch night programming will include the first ever RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK Versus The World, which sees the UK play host as nine international Drag Race alumni compete to win the title of Drag Race Superstar.
Other new released include Santa Claus the Serial Killer, a six-part true-crime series exploring the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur, and Flight Club – a programme exploring life behind the scenes at an airline.
Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, was shown on BBC Three and proved to be a hugely popular series
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (left) and Andrew Scott played the main roles in hit show Fleabag on the channel
The BBC dropped ith the broadcaster claiming young viewers had abandoned traditional viewing, despite it being the home of hit shows such as Gavin and Stacey, Killing Eve and Fleabag.
More than 300,000 people signed a petition to save the channel and a protest was held outside Broadcasting House when the BBC announced it was moving the channel online in 2014.
Despite the resistance, the broadcaster went ahead with the move citing that young viewers had abandoned traditional viewing.
But when Covid first hit in March 2020, the corporation said there was still a ‘significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit’.
According to the BBC, the channel will be a ‘multi-genre offering’ in which audiences can expect a ‘rich content mix of drama, comedy, entertainment, documentaries, news and sport’.
BBC first announced in March last year it was planning to bring the channel back to TV screens, followed by the proposal being given the green light by Ofcom in November.
The watchdog said the relaunch would help the BBC reach younger viewers, particularly those from lower-income homes and those living outside London and the South East.
It said that to ensure the channel is ‘distinctive’, at least 75 per cent of its broadcast hours must be original programmes commissioned by the BBC for UK viewers.
The BBC previously announced that its launch night programming will include the first ever RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK Versus The World
The channel will host the semi-finals and final of the Africa Cup of Nations live on free-to-air TV in its launch week
Alongside the announcement of the relaunch last year, the BBC also said it had agreed a new terms of trade deal with the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) trade association relating to TV production from independent producers.
The plans follow the success of BBC Three’s Normal People, which helped the corporation reach the crucial target of younger viewers.
BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell said: ‘We know how popular sport is with younger audiences and it’s going to have a big part to play on BBC Three.
‘Afcon is set to be an incredibly exciting tournament with some of the best players in the world on show, and it’s brilliant news that we will be showing the climax of the competition on free-to-air television.’
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