BBC ALBA will go on Freeview

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The Gaelic-language service BBC ALBA will be available to viewers in Scotland on Freeview, following approval by the BBC Trust today as part of a review of the service.

The review looked at how well the channel is serving Gaelic speakers, how well it is attracting new and non-speakers, and how it should be made available to audiences in the future. Continuation of the BBC ALBA service was dependent on a successful review by the Trust. The review included a public consultation which drew over 5,000 responses.

Overall the Trust has concluded that BBC ALBA is performing well and achieving its aims.

Specific conclusions include:

* BBC ALBA is serving Gaelic speakers well, and is also attracting over four non-Gaelic speakers for every Gaelic speaking viewer.

* The service, run jointly by the BBC and MG ALBA, is making strong progress towards attracting new speakers to the Gaelic language, with strong links with educational partners.

* The partnership between the BBC and MG ALBA is operating well, and engaging well with the independent production sector – in 2008/9 74% of the content budget was spent on suppliers outside the BBC.

* BBC ALBA should be carried on Freeview. The Trust has approved the BBC Executive’s proposal to remove the BBC’s thirteen radio stations from Freeview, in Scotland only, during the hours BBC ALBA is broadcasting, as the most technically and financially viable way of enabling BBC ALBA to be carried on Freeview.

On Freeview carriage, the BBC Executive explored and ruled out a range of possibilities for making BBC ALBA more widely available. For example, buying spectrum was ruled out due to the prohibitive cost. The removal of a red button stream or BBC Parliament from Freeview was also ruled out due to the likely loss of significant public value. Distributing BBC ALBA on broadband as an alternative to Freeview was ruled out due to relatively low broadband take-up and slow broadband speeds in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.

BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said: “The question of how to make BBC ALBA more widely available to licence fee payers in Scotland is a good example of the wider issue of distribution choices which we have been grappling with as part of our recent Strategy Review – how the BBC should best reach audiences as platforms increase. Through the Strategy Review we’ve committed the BBC to doing more to ensure that its services can be conveniently accessed by all audiences, and doing more to represent the nations. Enabling BBC ALBA to be carried on Freeview is a key part of that commitment.”

National Trustee for Scotland Jeremy Peat said: “It’s very encouraging to see that BBC ALBA is performing well and is appreciated by Gaelic speakers and learners. Carrying ALBA on Freeview will bring the service to a much wider audience across Scotland – it’s been clear from our review that there are strong views about the future of the service and this has not been a straightforward decision, but we believe that it’s the option that really offers the most benefit for licence fee payers in Scotland.”

The Trust also highlighted in its conclusions the importance of ensuring that programme quality on BBC ALBA continues to be kept high, as the amount of original programme stock, available from MG ALBA at launch, is declining over time as it is broadcast. The Trust has asked the Executive to consider whether its existing budget is sufficient for BBC ALBA to continue to meet its objectives, and has highlighted that it expects to see viewing levels and awareness of the service increase over time, with further progress towards the channel’s target of 250,000 viewers.

The Trust also expects the Executive to continue to explore whether the development of technologies which use spectrum more efficiently might enable some radio services on DTT in Scotland to be maintained alongside BBC ALBA in the future, subject to the normal value for money and public value considerations.