BBC Three

This article is about the British television channel which broadcast from 9 February 2003 to 16 February 2016. For the online television channel, see BBC Three (online). For other uses, see BBC Three (disambiguation).
"BBC-3" redirects here. For the TV series with this name, see BBC-3 (TV series).
BBC Three
Launched 9 February 2003 (2003-02-09)
Closed 16 February 2016 (2016-02-16)
Owned by BBC
Picture format 576i (16:9 SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Audience share 1.16% (September 2015 (2015-09), BARB)
Country United Kingdom
Replaced BBC Choice
Replaced by BBC Three (online)

BBC Three was a British television channel operated by the BBC. Launched on 9 February 2003 as a replacement for BBC Choice, the service's remit was to provide "innovative" programming to a target audience of viewers between 16 and 34 years old, leveraging technology as well as new talent.[1]

Unlike its commercial rivals, 90% of BBC Three's output was from the United Kingdom. 70% was original, covering all genres, including animation, comedy, current affairs, and drama. BBC Three had a unique 60 Seconds format for its news bulletins, adopted so that operation of the channel could be completely automated, without the complication of dealing with variable length live news broadcasts. The former controller of the station, Zai Bennett,[2] left to join Sky Atlantic in July 2014, at which point BBC Three commissioner Sam Bickley became acting controller.[3]

Until February 2016, the network broadcast on Freeview, digital cable, IPTV and Satellite television platforms, and was on-air from 7 pm to around 4 am each night to share terrestrial television bandwidth with CBBC.[1] In March 2014, as a result of a planned £100 million budget cut across the BBC, it was proposed that BBC Three be discontinued as a television service, and be converted to an over-the-top internet television service with a smaller programming budget and a focus on short-form productions.[4][5] Despite significant public opposition, the proposal was provisionally approved by the BBC Trust in June 2015,[6] with a new consultation open until 30 September of that year. The closure was confirmed in November 2015, with the TV channel ceasing operations on 16 February 2016, and replaced by an online-only version. The BBC Three TV signal was switched off in the early hours of 31 March 2016.


In late 2001 the BBC decided to reposition and rebrand their two digital channels so that they could be more closely linked to the well established BBC One and BBC Two. Their plan was for BBC Knowledge to be renamed BBC Four—which took place in 2002—and for BBC Choice to be renamed BBC Three. However, questions were raised over the proposed format of the new BBC Three, as some thought the new format would be too similar to the BBC's commercial rivals, namely ITV2 and E4, and would be unnecessary competition. The channel was eventually given the go ahead, eleven months after the original launch date, and launched on 9 February 2003.[7] The channel was launched by Stuart Murphy, who previously ran BBC Choice, and before that UK Play, the now-discontinued UKTV music and comedy channel. At 33, Murphy was still the youngest channel controller in the country, a title he had held since launching UK Play at the age of 26; although on 20 October 2005 it was announced that Murphy was soon to leave the channel to work in commercial television. On 12 May 2011, BBC Three was added to the Sky EPG in the Republic of Ireland on channel 229.[8] It was later moved to channel 210 on 3 July 2012, to free up space for new channels.

For the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics, BBC Three increased its broadcasting hours to 24 hours to provide extra coverage of Olympic events.[9] Broadcast hours were extended again for the 2014 Commonwealth Games with BBC Three broadcasting from 9:00 am to 4:00 am for the duration of the games.[10] On 16 July 2013 the BBC announced that a high-definition (HD) simulcast of BBC Three would be launched by early 2014.[11] The channel launched on 10 December 2013.[12]

Replacement by internet service

In February 2014 BBC Director-General Tony Hall announced that cuts of £100 million would have to be made at the corporation; Hall stated that the corporation could be forced to close one of its television services as a cost-savings measure.[4] On 5 March 2014 Hall announced a proposal to convert BBC Three to an online-only service, with an almost 50% cut in its programming budget, and a larger emphasis on short form content due to the cut in funding.[5][13] These changes formed part of a package of proposals from the BBC, including extending CBBC's hours, respending £30m on BBC One audiences for drama, and launching a one-hour timeshift channel of BBC One.[14] There was notable backlash against the measures, with celebrities including Greg James, Matt Lucas and Jack Whitehall speaking out.[15] A petition against the move on has gathered over 300,000 signatures. However, there was some support from media commentators, and those who backed a "slimmer" BBC.[16][17]

When the BBC revealed the full detail in December 2014, it admitted there was widespread opposition from BBC Three viewers[13] but said there was support for the wider package of proposals. They believed the public welcomed a BBC One +1 as it admits "a vast majority of viewing still takes place on linear channels".[13] The 'Save BBC Three' campaign pointed out this was a contradiction to what the BBC said about BBC Three.[18] The BBC Trust began a 28-day public consultation regarding the plans on 20 January 2015[19] and it ended with a protest outside Broadcasting House.[20] As part of the consultation a letter of 750 names against the move from the creative industry was sent to the BBC Trust, and this had the backing of a number of celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Aidan Turner, Olivia Colman and Lena Headey.[21] The polling company ICM concluded a "large majority" of those that replied to the consultation were against the move[18] with respondents particularly concerned about those who cannot stream programming online, the effect of the content budget cuts, and the BBC's own admission the audience numbers would drop.[18]

The Save BBC Three campaign has argued the transition period is too short and that programmes like Family Guy, Hair, and Don't Tell the Bride have not performed as well on BBC One and BBC Two with the 16-34 year old audience, in comparison to BBC Three.[22] It did not consider the proposals cost-effective because the BBC will need to spend on a new brand and triple advertising budgets to increase awareness of the new service.

Nonetheless the BBC Trust issued its final decision to approve the transition in November 2015, citing the fact that younger audiences have increasingly migrated to online television content as opposed to linear television channels, and the BBC's ability to "deliver more distinctive content online, while bearing down on costs". Conditions were imposed on other BBC properties to compliment the changes; BBC One and Two will be required to develop "distinctive programmes designed for younger audiences", as well as air encores of all full-length programmes that originally premiere on the BBC Three online service. The Trust also approved related proposals to allow first-run and third-party content on iPlayer, as well as extend CBBC's broadcast day to 9:00 p.m. The BBC One timeshift service was rejected, citing "limited public value".[23][24] Jimmy Mulville and Jon Thoday of independent production companies Hat Trick Productions and Avalon reportedly considered legal action against the Trust if it went ahead with the closure of the channel.[25] They had previously offered to buy the channel to keep it on television, but the BBC said the channel was not up for sale.[26]

BBC Three signed off during the early morning of 16 February 2016. The final programme was an episode of Gavin & Stacey, introduced by its co-star James Corden from the Los Angeles studio of his U.S. late-night talk show The Late Late Show.[27][28] The channel thereafter carried promotional information regarding the BBC Three internet service until it officially went dark.[29][30][31]


The remit of BBC Three is to bring younger audiences to high quality public service broadcasting through a mixed-genre schedule of innovative UK content featuring new UK talent. The channel should use the full range of digital platforms to deliver its content and to build an interactive relationship with its audience. The channel's target audience is 16–34-year-olds.
BBC Three Remit[1]

The channel's target audience was 16–34-year-olds,[32] and it faced heavy competition from rivals including ITV2 and E4,[33] for an audience that the BBC has traditionally had difficulty in attracting. In 2008 it reached 26.3% of 16–34-year-olds in digital homes—the channel's highest ever such reach and above that of E4, ITV2, Dave and Sky 1.[34]

On average, nine million people watched BBC Three every week,[35] and it had a 2.6% share of the 15–34-year-old audience and 1.4% of the whole population, according to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB). These ratings by BARB, the official ratings agency, average out BBC Three's viewing figures over a 24-hour period even though the channel only broadcasts in the evening, giving a distorted sense of the channel's viewership. Despite several official complaints from the BBC, BARB continues to publish figures which the BBC argues are unrepresentative.

BBC Three's programming consisted of comedy, drama, spin-off series and repeated episodes of series from BBC One and BBC Two, and other programmes that attempted to alert others of their actions through a series of programmes challenging common beliefs.

An example of BBC Three's comedy output includes the award-winning comedy Little Britain, which in October 2004 broke its previous viewing record when 1.8 million viewers tuned in for a new series.[36] Little Britain was later broadcast on the BBC's terrestrial analogue channels BBC One and BBC Two. The channels longest-running comedy programme is Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Some current programmes feature stand-up comedians performing their own take on a subject, usually the news, examples of which include Russell Howard's Good News (Now being broadcast on BBC Two, due to success and partly to BBC Three's move to online only) and Lee Nelson's Well Good Show.

Comedy and drama

The channel aired various comedies and dramas; one of its most popular sitcoms was Gavin & Stacey, which first aired in May 2007 and was written by and starring James Corden and Ruth Jones alongside Mathew Horne, Joanna Page, Alison Steadman and Rob Brydon. The sitcom was an instant hit, with subsequent series being moved to other BBC channels and the show being granted a Christmas special. Another example is Being Human, a drama in which a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf share a flat, which has become a success and heralded several new series. American programming also features, with American Dad! and Family Guy being the notable examples.

Numerous popular series were either repeated on the channel or have spin-offs created from them. In early 2003, viewers could watch episodes of popular BBC soap opera EastEnders on BBC Three before they were broadcast on BBC One. This programming decision coincided with the relaunch of the channel and helped it break the one million viewers milestone for the first time. An episode of EastEnders Revealed, which was commissioned for BBC Three and looking behind the scenes of the programme, attracted 611,000 viewers. In 2005, BBC Three commissioned the documentary series Doctor Who Confidential, which was shown immediately after episodes of the new series of Doctor Who had been screened on BBC One. This was followed up in July 2005, when it began to screen repeats of both programmes.

In October 2005, it was announced that BBC Three had commissioned a spin-off drama series from Doctor Who, Torchwood, designed as a post-watershed science fiction drama for a more adult audience. Torchwood launched with 2.4 million viewers in October 2006.[37] Torchwood is the first science fiction programme ever to have been commissioned by the channel, and its popularity led to it being broadcast on BBC Two for the second series, and on BBC One for subsequent series. In 2010, BBC Three began airing episodes of the fifth series of BBC drama series Waterloo Road after they had aired on BBC One as part of its 'catch-up' programming. From January 2015, BBC Three aired the remaining episodes of Waterloo Road before being repeated on BBC One later the same day.[38]

Among its original programming, the channel also gave viewers the comedy-drama Pramface, which was written by Chris Reddy and comprised 19 episodes over three series, broadcast between 2012 and 2014.


BBC Three also airs highly acclaimed documentaries reflecting young people's experience of the world, including the BAFTA winning Our War; Blood, Sweat and T-shirts plus subsequent sequels; Life & Death Row and their recent season of films about mental illness. BBC Three also broadcasts specialist factual documentaries, such as How Drugs Work and How Sex Works, plus the critically acclaimed documentary series People Just Do Nothing.

BBC Three has also commissioned a number of notable single one-off documentaries, including Growing Up Down's (2014), My Brother the Islamist (2011), Small Teen Big World (2010); Stormchaser: The Butterfly and the Tornado (2012) and The Autistic Me (2009). Many are commissioned through BBC Three's FRESH scheme; providing an opportunity for 'the next generation of directors' to make their first 60-minute documentary for the channel.[39]

News and sport

The channel features hourly news updates called 60 Seconds, presented by Sam Naz during the week, which include the top news, sport and entertainment stories. They are presented in a relaxed style in keeping with the rest of the channel. As part of the BBC's discussions with the government regarding the founding of the channel, a longer news programme had been promised to provide a daily section of news and current affairs. The News Show, as it came to be called upon launch, was later rebranded The 7 O'Clock News. However, the BBC discontinued the bulletin in 2005, following a recommendation made in the 2004 Barwise Report, which found that the channel's target audience sought news from elsewhere.[40]

The channel also showed some sports programming. Match of the Day Live broadcast international football matches featuring Wales, often when an England match was being shown on BBC One. The channel also showed some matches of England's Women's team. Highlights of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations were shown on the channel from 20 January to 10 February 2008.[41]

List of Programmes

Here is a list of programmes that were on BBC3







One of the former BBC Three "Blobs"
The Discovery package was in action from October 2013-January 2016, prior to the channel's online move

The channel's original idents were conceived by Stefan Marjoram at Aardman Animations and were used from launch until February 2008. Stuart Murphy was touring Aardman Animations looking for new programming ideas for BBC Three when he spotted the cone shaped creatures, he then took the idea back to the Lambie-Nairn agency, responsible for the BBC Three identity package.[42] A feature of this identity is also the music "Three Is The Magic Number", based (only the lyrics are copied) upon Schoolhouse Rock!.

BBC Online provided a number of downloads and activities based on the channel's identity, these included "BlobMate", screensavers, wallpapers and also games such as BlobLander and BlobBert. The idea used by both Lambie-Nairn, who had developed the branding for CBeebies and CBBC, and Aardman, was to create the BBC Three blobs as a relation to the green and yellow blobs of the children's channels. Up until they rebranded the channel, it had two continuity announcers, Kieron Elliott and Lola Buckley. Currently the channel's announcers are Gavin Inskip and Jen Long with out-of-vision continuity presented live during peak time.

On 22 January 2008 a new channel identity was unveiled. Rebranding was carried out by Red Bee Media, along with agencies MPG and Agency Republic with music and sound design by creative audio company Koink.[43]

The Discovery Indents were introduced in October 2013 and lasted until January 2016, retaining the logo from 2008. The idents follow the theme of "discovery", and were designed by Claire Powell at Red Bee Media.[44] The soundtrack for the idents was composed by Chris Branch and Tom Haines at Brains & Hunch.[45]

On 4 January 2016, alongside the announcement of the date on which the channel will become an internet-only service, a third logo was unveiled. Inspired by the iconography of mobile applications, the new logo incorporates the roman numeral for the number 3, with the third bar replaced by an exclamation mark. Marketing head Nikki Carr explained that the three bars represented the three principles of BBC Three as a service; making viewers "think", "laugh", and have a voice.[46]


The channel has had critical and popular successes, winning more awards in its eleven-year history than its commercial rivals (Sky 1, Sky Living, E4, ITV2, Channel 5 and Comedy Central) have won in their combined 25-year history. In total BBC Three has won 7 BAFTA awards, 5 British Comedy Awards, 15 Royal Television Society Awards and 5 Rose d'Or Awards since the channel was launched in February 2003. Most recently, it won Broadcast Magazine's Digital Channel of the Year Award for Best General Entertainment Channel, and MGEITF Non Terrestrial Channel of the Year.

In 2008, BBC Three's Gavin & Stacey won the BAFTA audience award and the best comedy performance award was awarded to James Corden for his part.[47]


The channel has also come in for criticism from several corners, the most prominent of which are some of the BBC's long-standing presenters. These include John Humphrys, who argued that BBC Three and BBC Four should be shut down in the face of budget cuts to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, which he presents,[48] John Sweeney of Panorama,[49] and Jeremy Paxman are among other journalists who have also criticised the channel and its content.[50]

In July 2010 a UK music magazine printed a letter from the pressure group Friends of Radio 3 that criticised BBC Three for having 'comedies, game shows, films and documentaries, but no arts programming at all'.[51] In a later issue another correspondent endorsed this assessment on the basis of a search through issues of the Radio Times, and cast doubt on the BBC's claim (in the document Performance Against Public Commitments 2009/10) that the channel broadcast '54 hours of new music and arts programming' in that year.[52] Two months later the same correspondent wrote in to inform readers that the BBC had refused his 'Freedom of Information' request concerning the titles of the programmes used in calculating the '54 hours' total.[53]


  1. 1 2 3 "BBC Three Service Licence" (PDF). BBC Trust. September 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  2. "Zai Bennett announced as new BBC Three controller". BBC News. 16 December 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  3. "BBC Three appoints new channel boss Sam Bickley". BBC News. 2 June 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  4. 1 2 Plunkett, John (26 February 2014). "BBC could axe frontline channel or service as it seeks extra £100m in cuts". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  5. 1 2 "BBC Three to be axed and move online". BBC News. 5 March 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  6. "BBC Three online move approved by BBC Trust". BBC News. 30 June 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  7. "BBC Three digital channel launches". BBC News. 10 February 2003.
  8. "Ireland: Extra BBC channels being added to Sky EPG". The Airwaves. 2 May 2011. Archived from the original on 7 May 2011.
  9. "The Olympics on BBC Three". BBC Three. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  10. "Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on BBC Sport". BBC. 20 May 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  11. "BBC to launch five new HD channels". BBC News. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  12. "BBC to launch five new subscription-free HD channels on Tuesday 10 December". BBC. 9 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  13. 1 2 3 "Public Value Assessment of the re-invention of BBC Three online and related proposals" (PDF). BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  14. "BBC Three to be axed as on-air channel". BBC. 5 March 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  15. "BBC Three gets celebrity backing in fight for survival". BBC. 5 March 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  16. Greenslade, Roy. "Tony Hall's axing of BBC3 is the least worst way of saving money". The Guardian.
  17. "Opponents of BBC3 move are in denial".
  18. 1 2 3 "BBC Trust Public Value Assessment Public Consultation Report" (PDF). BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  19. "BBC - Trust begins public consultation on BBC Three proposals - BBC Trust".
  20. "Save BBC Three petition delivered to BBC Trust". BBC News. 17 February 2015. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  21. Midgley, Neil (8 June 2015). "BBC stars and comics among hundreds calling on broadcaster to save BBC3". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  22. "BBC Three - BBC Trust Consultation Responder". Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  23. "BBC Trust tells parents unhappy at CBBC's late finish: 'there is an off button'". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  24. "BBC Trust publishes final decision on proposals for BBC Three, CBBC, iPlayer, BBC One+1". BBC. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  25. Sweney, Mark (3 July 2015). "BBC3: producers call on culture secretary to launch review into closure". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  26. Midgely, Neil (17 February 2015). "BBC3 bid: Jimmy Mulville and Jon Thoday step up pressure on trust". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  27. "James Corden bids farewell to BBC Three with a heartfelt message: 'It took a chance on Gavin & Stacey'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  28. "BBC3's final night of TV programming is packed with old favourites". Radio Times. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  29. Goodacre, Kate (26 November 2015). "BBC Three will move online in March 2016 as BBC Trust approves plans to axe broadcast TV channel". Digital Spy. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  30. "BBC Three reveals new logo and switchover date". BBC. 4 January 2016. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  31. "BBC Three to move online from February". BBC News. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  32. "BBC Three". BBC Trust. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  33. Clark, Nicola. "Is BBC Three a commercial threat?". Brand Republic. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  34. "BBC Trust Service Review Younger audiences: BBC Three, Radio 1 and 1Xtra" (PDF). BBC Trust. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  35. "BBC Press Office – BBC Three key facts". BBC. Retrieved 11 August 2008.
  36. Matthews, Sam (20 October 2004). "BBC Three has last laugh with Little Britain's 2m ratings". Brand Republic. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  37. "Torchwood scores record audience". BBC News. 23 October 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2008.
  38. Kilkelly, Daniel (11 December 2014). "Waterloo Road to lose primetime BBC One slot". Digital Spy. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  39. "Fresh documentaries for BBC Three". 28 February 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  40. "BBC Three drops nightly news show". BBC News. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  41. "Africa Cup of Nations on the BBC". BBC Sport. 8 February 2008. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  42. "The TV Room – BBC Three – February 2003 – February 2008". Retrieved 5 April 2009.
  43. "Home – Creative Production – Original Music – Koink". Retrieved 11 August 2008.
  44. "BBC Three". Red Bee Media. October 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  45. "BBC Three Idents". YouTube. 9 October 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  46. "BBC Three reveals new logo and switchover date". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  47. Singh, Anita; Martin, Nicole (21 April 2008). "Gavin and Stacey wins top honours at Baftas". The Telegraph. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  48. Burrell, Ian (3 September 2007). "Humphrys: BBC cost-cutters should axe new channels". The Independent. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  49. "Scrap BBC Three and Four to save prestigious programmes, says veteran journalist John Humphrys". Daily Mail. 3 September 2007.
  50. Cavendish, Camilla (5 July 2007). "BBC Three and Four, your number's up". The Times. Archived from the original on 8 July 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  51. Letter from Sarah Spilsbury, Musical Opinion, July–August 2010, p. 56
  52. Letter from Mark Doran, Musical Opinion, November–December 2010, p. 3
  53. Letter from Mark Doran, Musical Opinion, January–February 2011, p. 4

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