The BBC faces a setback in its bid to attract younger viewers after Ofcom announced a review of its plans to relaunch BBC Three.
The broadcaster pulled the youth-focussed channel from TV in 2016, but has since been told by the media watchdog that it must work to serve a younger demographic.
So, BBC executives announced this year that they would reinstate the channel with a £72 million budget to attract viewers under 34, but the corporation’s U-turn to appeal to younger audiences could now be frustrated by competition rules.
Ofcom has said that a relaunch would present a “material change” to the UK broadcasting landscape which could impact other outlets, and the media body will now investigate whether this change can go ahead.
Broadcasters have told Ofcom of concerns that “the BBC’s proposal could have a negative impact on other broadcasters if BBC Three took their viewing share”.
It was also told that “public value” of the scheme could be questioned “given the trends in viewing habits of young people and availability of other similar commercial channels”.
Ofcom will now “undertake analysis of the BBC’s proposal” and see “if they should be allowed to proceed”.
The proposals for change came after Ofocm warned the BBC that young people were increasingly drifting online and spending more time on YouTube than engaging with the traditional broadcaster’s content.
BBC Three has led the way in retaining this younger audience, with successful programmes such as Normal People and Fleabag, and the BBC intended for the channel to return to the small screen in 2022.
Slumping viewing figures
The news comes as BBC chiefs received criticism after they defended plummeting viewing figures for its flagship news programme on its expensive Scottish channel.
Just 20,000 people per night were tuning in to The Nine, BBC Scotland’s nightly news programme, which was launched following sustained criticism from the SNP about the broadcaster’s output.
Many Scottish nationalists continue to regularly attack the BBC, in part due to a perceived bias against independence ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.
Gary Smith, head of news, BBC Scotland, told the Scottish Affairs Committee on Tuesday that he was “very pleased” with the viewing figures for The Nine, even though he admitted a rival show, STV’s Scotland Tonight was watched by up to five times as many people.
The BBC Scotland channel has an annual budget of £32 million but a report last year showed just 18 per cent of potential viewers regularly tuned in, and it cost six times more per viewer than BBC One.
Stephen Kerr, chief whip for the Scotish Tories, said: “BBC Scotland enjoys a huge budget but it is clear from this admission that people are largely not tuning into The Nine.
“The bosses at the BBC seemed at pains to try and defend these viewing figures which have continued to slump ever since the channel launched.
“Licence fee payers will be rightly questioning why so much money is being spent to only ultimately gain such a small audience.”