How BBC Three is attracting ‘hard-to-reach’ audiences with its return to live TV

The relaunch of BBC Three’s on-air channel is the “final hook” to pulling in “opportunity” viewers, says channel controller Fiona Campbell.

BBC Three
Source: BBC Three

After nearly six years as an online-only channel, BBC Three returned to live TV last month.

Home to hit TV shows, including Killing Eve, Normal People and Fleabag, the channel has built up a loyal following of fans, but being purely on-demand was becoming limiting for the brand, said the channel’s controller Fiona Campbell.

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing: Transform today (24 March), she said: “Why wouldn’t you use every single lever you have and the global competitive environment we’re in to get that content out there?”

“I believe you have to choose to engage with an on-demand platform”, she added, which is one of the reasons she pushed for the channel to get back on air.

When navigating on-demand, she explained there’s “quite a lot of steps to engagement”, but now with the channel back to linear, “it’s the final hook” to pull in the “opportunity” audience.

It works both ways though. Now BBC Three is back on air it will also be used to “make noise” and “be a live signal of what’s on offer” to pull viewers in to watch the rest of the series on iPlayer.

“A channel is not to be judged by itself,” said Campbell. “It’s a small layer of the hardest-to-reach part of the audience that we’re trying to make aware of the shows we have, that are aimed at them.”

This is even more pertinent, given the channel has so many regionally based shows. She said there’s about 3 million people who watch linear TV and not on-demand in the youth space. And they’re mostly located in the North of England and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an audience Campbell said she is “obsessed by”.

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“I think they’re not talked to directly about their lives. The tone can still be very reflective of the capital city, or Manchester,” she said.

Repositioning the brand

Preparing for return, the channel did audience meet-ups and research groups via Zoom to find out when its audience was interacting with the BBC. Campbell found people spoke about how they’d turn on the TV while ironing, cleaning the kitchen, or when making dinner for companionship and “noise in the background”.

These lessons influenced the channel’s brand positioning. “I felt if we had a channel which was more younger-skewing, more laid back, more chilled out and more fun than BBC 1 and 2 can be, that could be the companion to people’s lives,” she said. “I sold that very hard.”

“It aligned with the BBC having to be for all, across the UK, which I firmly believe in.”

The channel skews towards the under-35 audience, which includes 16 million people across the UK. “They are by definition in lower income brackets, because they’re at the start of their lives and careers, and we really wanted to focus on how the BBC reaches them and talks to them,” she said.

It’s an audience that has “light relationships” with the BBC, who come to the broadcaster infrequently for specific events, such as football or currently The Apprentice, said Campbell.

We wanted a colour palette that would work through digital and on our platform, that would stand out and was going to appeal to all genders – that was a really important part of the brief.

Fiona Campbell, BBC Three

When it comes to marketing, it’s “very hard to get your signal out there in a clear way in the market,” she added. “Especially to people who aren’t really engaged with you.”

One way the channel has looked to engage Gen Z and younger millennials is via its acid green brand refresh. “We wanted a colour palette that would work through digital and on our platform, that would stand out and was going to appeal to all genders – that was a really important part of the brief,” said Campbell.

A data-led approach

As a channel BBC Three is very data-led, Campbell explained, partly because it had to be as a digital-only brand.

Campbell spoke about how the channel’s regional shows, such as Angels of the North, which is set in Gateshead, do particularly well in the areas where they’re set. The marketing is partly driven by personalities in the shows’ social media activity.

The channel also draws insights from iPlayer for its shows: “Within iPlayer, they also have socio-economic groups and you can see if it’s doing above or below average against different sets of socio-economic groups, and against sexuality.”

The BBC measures performance across 30 days, but as Campbell said, BBC Three gets more granular than that, and on social too. In terms of what performs best, factual and entertainment content exhibit success quickly, such as Drag Race UK, while drama-based shows can take a longer time to build.

When it comes to building recognition for drama, the marketing heavy lifting is really done for the first series, and so “it should get easier” from there.

Returning shows are a “big part of the strategy” for the channel, but Campbell added: “You need to be strategic with money for new shows, because you haven’t got as much.”

The channel has seen its budget double from when it went digital in 2016, with the majority of that investment going into drama. “We were only funded for one quite low budget drama before, but now we’re funded to do three to four a year,” said Campbell.

She wants the channel to create some of the “show brands” of the future in the next five years, and to help a “whole new set of creative voices cut their teeth with BBC Three”.



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