|Launched||19 September 2008|
|Owned by||BBC and MG Alba|
|Picture format||576i (16:9 SDTV)|
|Slogan||A new channel for Scotland/Sianal Ùr Gàidhlig|
|Country||United Kingdom (Scotland)|
|Headquarters||Pacific Quay (Glasgow) and Stornoway|
|Freeview||Channel 8 (Scotland only)|
|Sky (UK only)||Channel 143|
|Astra 1N||10803 H 22000 5/6|
|Virgin Media||Channel 161|
|Smallworld Cable||Channel 170|
|BBC iPlayer||Watch live (UK only)|
BBC Alba is a Scottish Gaelic language digital television channel jointly owned by the BBC and MG Alba. The channel was launched on 19 September 2008 and is on-air for up to seven hours a day. The name Alba is the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland. The station is unique in that it is the first channel to be delivered under a BBC licence by a partnership and is also the first multi-genre channel to come entirely from Scotland with almost all of its programmes made in Scotland.
The channel is available in Scotland via Freeview, and throughout the UK on Sky, Freesat, Virgin Media and online through the BBC iPlayer service. BBC Alba has an average viewership of 637,000 adults over the age of 16 in Scotland each week. BBC Alba got 4.1 million views on BBC iPlayer between 2012–2013.
In 2007, the BBC Trust opened a consultation for a Gaelic digital service in partnership will the Gaelic Media Service. Following the BBC Trust consultation in November 2007, the Audience Council Scotland recommended their support for the creation of the service on 7 December 2007, stating that the Trust should pursue carriage of the service on digital terrestrial television and that existing "gaelic zone" programming on BBC Scotland should remain after the launch. On 28 January 2008, the BBC Trust gave the go-ahead for a Gaelic channel.
The channel began broadcasting on satellite at 9:00pm on 19 September 2008 with a launch video featuring a new rendition of the Runrig song, Alba. The first part of a live céilidh from Skye, presented by Mary Ann Kennedy, was followed by a specially produced comedy drama entitled Eilbheas (Elvis), starring Greg Hemphill as Elvis Presley, at 9:30pm. The channel's first independent commission, Peter Manuel – Deireadh an Uilc? (Peter Manuel - The End of Evil?), a drama documentary produced by STV Productions, was shown at 10:30pm before the opening night closed with the second half of the live celidh from Skye. The launch night was simulcast on BBC Two Scotland between 9:00pm and 10:30pm and there was a launch event held at the National Museum of Scotland, which was recorded by the channel's news service An Là.
A study carried out for the channel indicated that 650,000 people watched BBC Alba per week in the first two months of broadcasting, in spite of only being available to around a third of Scots. After being subject to a review by the BBC Trust and a recommendation from the Audience Council Scotland in 2009, a plan was announced to broadcast the channel on Freeview, in Scotland only, from the digital switchover (2010) under the proviso that reach of the service extended beyond the core Gaelic audience to 250,000. This was approved on 27 December 2010 by the BBC Trust and the service launched on Freeview on 8 June 2011. The channel also launched on Virgin Media (Scotland only) on 18 May 2011, and was made available nationwide on the Virgin Media and Sky platforms, the former on 6 November 2012.
BBC Alba is broadcast for up to seven hours a day in the United Kingdom on satellite platforms Sky and Freesat, cable provider Virgin Media and on digital terrestrial provider Freeview in Scotland only. Programmes are also available to watch on the internet live through services including the BBC iPlayer and some programmes are available for seven days after broadcast on this service and on catch up services of some other services.
The channel is financed from the BBC Scotland budget and by MG Alba, which itself is financed by the Scottish Government and UK Government. The BBC spent £8 million on the channel, of which £5 million was used for programming, in 2011/12 MG Alba applies the majority of its budget (£12.4 million in 2008/09) to the Gaelic Digital Service.
BBC Alba has four studios across Scotland, located in Stornoway, Glasgow, Inverness and Portree. Continuity and channel management is based in Stornoway while the news services are based in Inverness. A short pre-recorded information program called Dè Tha Dol is sent from Stornoway and is played out at 7:55pm daily. BBC Scotland's headquarters at Pacific Quay in Glasgow is used to transmit the programmes. The First Minister, Alex Salmond opened the new BBC Alba studio in Portree in August 2008 where he recorded a message for the launch of BBC Alba.
BBC Alba combines television, radio and on-line programme content, and is anticipated to have a positive impact at many levels including increasing artistic and technical skills, extending economic opportunities, stimulating parents' interest in Gaelic medium education, appealing to and serving the adult learners and strengthening Gaelic usage in extremely important media. It holds significant potential to assist with the development of positive attitudes to the acquisition and transmission of Gaelic. BBC Alba broadcasts more Scottish sport than any other channel, with over three hours a week of football, rugby and shinty. In addition, the station also broadcasts a live news programme for 30 minutes every weekday.
MG Alba and the BBC have announced that around ninety minutes of television content daily will be new material. Output on the station consists of news, current affairs, sport, drama, documentary, entertainment, education, religion and children's programming, broadcast on most days between 5pm and 12am. Sport programmes began on Saturday 20 September 2008 and news services on Monday 22 September 2008.
Children's programmes are shown for two hours every weekday, between 17:00 and 19:00. Current affairs series Eòrpa and children's magazine show Dè a-nis? are broadcast on Thursday nights on BBC Alba and also continue to be shown on BBC Two Scotland at their usual timeslots on Thursdays.
A nightly half-hour news programme, An Là, is aired on weeknights at 8:00pm with newsreaders Angela Maclean and Iain Maclean. Radio Personality of the Year, Derek 'Pluto' Murray, is their resident sports reporter. Spòrs on Saturday nights features weekly coverage of a selected SPL match. Rugby Beo broadcasts one live Magners League rugby union game a week, involving one of the competition's Scottish teams. A Gaelic-learning programme, Speaking our Language is re-broadcast on weeknights at 7:30pm. Former Eòrpa reporter, Derek Mackay hosts a weekly chat show, Cnag na Cùise, on Sunday nights. So far two series of current affairs documentary Trusadh has been commissioned as of 2010, which is sometimes presented by Donald MacSween.
BBC Alba also fund new programming, such as Fraochy Bay.
Most of the adult programming on BBC Alba contains on-screen English subtitles. For logistical reasons, live broadcasts (including the news) are not subtitled, although certain events (e.g. the annual Hogmanay broadcast Bliadhna Mhath Ùr) have scripted elements that are subtitled, while interviews and ad-libbed lines are not.
Children's programmes are not subtitled.
During the 2009-10 season, the station broadcasts one full SPL game every Saturday night. The game selected was always one not covered by either live Sky Sports or on an on-demand basis by BT Vision and was shown three hours after the end of the match. The matches only included Gaelic commentary along with English subtitles.
The channel reached an agreement with the Scottish Football League to broadcast live football games during the 2008–09 season. This began with the final of the Challenge Cup, which was also sponsored by MG Alba. BBC Alba then started broadcasting First Division games, beginning with the match between Airdrie United and Clyde on 22 February 2009.
Independent production companies
A number of independent companies have been commissioned to produce content for the channel, or have productions currently airing. These include:
- Theatre Hebrides (Lostbost)
- Madmac Productions (Broadford or Bust)
- Caledonia Stern and Wylde (Tìr is Teanga)
- MnE Media, formerly known as Meadhan nan Eilean (Seasaidh Lexy, Cuide ri Cathy)
- Tern TV (Slighe gu Biadh)
- Eyeline Media (Air an Rathad, Làrach anns an Fhàsach)
- MacTV (Ealtainn)
- Studio Alba (A' Gharaids)
Lack of Gaelic content and emphasis on English
The Gaelic community, including writers Aonghas MacNeacail, Angus Peter Campbell, Lisa Storey and musician Ailean Domhnullach (Gleann Uige), have criticised the non-availability of Gaelic subtitles, and the emphasis on English language interviews and reportage in the channel's content for adults. Writers and authors were reported by the BBC Gaelic news service as setting up a campaign, GAIDHLIG.TV, to increase Gaelic content on ALBA. The decision to introduce 'red button facilities' to allow viewers to switch to English language sports commentary, first announced in August 2014 for rugby and the Guinness Pro12 series, was heavily criticised by the Gaelic community. The criticism resulted in MG ALBA announcing publicly in the West Highland Free Press that the 'red button option' for English language commentary would not expand to other sports or areas of the channel.
Critics[who?] have argued that the small number of viewers does not justify the £15m of licence payers' money spent on the digital television channel each year. Since its launch in September 2008, the BBC Alba channel has lost a third of its viewers, but its number of viewers remains five times larger than the size of the Gaelic speech community in Scotland (just over 58,000). The historian Michael Fry has argued that many of its viewers only watch it for the football coverage, because "you don't need Gaelic to watch football", and that in this way the channel is "cheating". The model is, however, both common and intentional as it is on comparable channels such as the Irish language channel TG4, the Basque channel EITB or the Welsh channel S4C. In Europe, these channels' main mission is not commercial, but the promotion of the minority language.
Some criticism had been levied over the channel's addition to Freeview, primarily due to the BBC's original plan (with acceptance from the BBC Executive) to remove all 13 BBC Radio channels from Freeview for Scottish viewers over the period that BBC Alba will be shown on Freeview (between 5pm and midnight); however the criticism has not been directed at the BBC's decision to extend BBC Alba to Freeview in principle. On 19 May 2011, it was reported that the BBC has backed down on the plans, after the BBC had "managed to reengineer facilities" to allow BBC Radio 1Xtra, 5 Live and 6 Music to continue to broadcast on a 24-hour basis. The three stations were chosen because they have the highest evening audience ratings on digital television of the seven BBC radio stations unavailable on FM radio. On 2 December 2013, it was confirmed that more radio stations were made available 24 hours in Scotland, but with some trade-offs. BBC Radio 4, 4 Extra, 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Asian Network were restored, but as noted in the blog with some technical trade-offs, such as mono audio rather than stereo during the evenings on the radio stations mentioned and the audio bit rate of the TV channels in Scotland on Freeview reduced to 192kbit/s from 256kbit/s.
- List of television stations in the United Kingdom
- BBC Radio nan Gàidheal
- MG Alba
- Bòrd na Gàidhlig
- Audience Council Scotland
- List of Celtic-language media
- TeleG - Gaelic-language channel, previously available on Freeview, that was closed at digital switchover.
- S4C - Welsh-language TV station
- TG4 - Irish-language TV station
- Maori Television
- NRK Sámi Radio
- France 3 Bretagne
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