Sky Ireland set to add BBC Three to channel line-up as Virgin talks continue

BBC this week relaunched the youth-targeting linear service after a six-year hiatus

Sky Ireland is expected to add the relaunched BBC Three to its electronic programme guide (EPG) in the coming weeks, while Virgin Media Ireland has indicated that it is "in discussions" about carrying the channel on its service again.

BBC Three returned to UK television services on February 1st, but pay-TV customers in the Republic did not have their access restored as commercial negotiations for carriage of the channel overseas were still ongoing.

The BBC axed BBC Three as a linear channel in 2016 amid budget cuts, but it retained it as a digital brand and broadcast some of its programmes on BBC One or Two. Last year, it confirmed plans to bring back the channel in a bid to regain younger viewers lost to Netflix and other streamers.

The channel now requires a European Union broadcast licence to target audiences in the EU, which the UK broadcaster is likely to obtain from either Luxembourg or the Netherlands, where other BBC services have been licensed for EU distribution since Brexit.

Sky Ireland customers can manually tune in the channel via satellite, while viewers in the Republic may also be able to access BBC Three content through the BBC iPlayer if they sign up to a virtual private network (VPN).

However, it is hoped that the Republic’s two largest pay-TV operators – Sky and Virgin – may soon be in a position to offer the channel as part of their main line-ups.

During its six-year hiatus from linear television, BBC Three remained an active creator of new programming, notably commissioning Element Pictures to adapt the Sally Rooney novel Normal People. The series, which also received the backing of Disney-controlled Hulu, went on to become an audience hit during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Comedy record

BBC Three, which first launched in 2003, also has a track record of bringing Irish comedy talent to the forefront, with commissions in recent years including three seasons of The Young Offenders, made by Vico Films.

Other BBC Three comedy series include Rose Matafeo's romantic comedy Starstruck – which returns for a second season next Monday – and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's acclaimed Fleabag, while James Corden and Ruth Jones's popular sitcom Gavin & Stacey began its life as a BBC Three programme.

The channel, which airs from 7pm each night, had peak overnight ratings of 375,000 viewers on Tuesday, a relatively low linear audience given the size of the UK television market.

However, one sketch from the series Lazy Susan, starring comedy duo Celeste Dring and Freya Parker, went viral online after being posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

Sketch Hotline, which had been viewed more than 600,000 times by Thursday afternoon, shows the Lazy Susan pair answering hate-filled calls from trolls in the upbeat manner of a breezy customer service department.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics