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BBC Alba
BBC Alba.svg
Launched 19 September 2008
Owned by BBC and MG Alba
Picture format 576i (PAL) 16:9
Audience share 5.5% (March 2009, [1])
Slogan A new channel for Scotland/Sianal Ùr Gàidhlig
Country  Scotland
Language Scottish Gaelic
Headquarters Pacific Quay (Glasgow) and Stornoway
Sister channel(s) BBC One Scotland
BBC Two Scotland
Sky Digital Channel 168
Freesat Channel 110
Astra 2D 11954H 27500 2/3
Virgin Media Channel TBA
Virgin On Demand On BBC iPlayer
Catch Up On Demand
Internet television
BBC iPlayer (UK only)
Zattoo (UK only)

BBC Alba is a Scottish Gaelic language digital television channel which is broadcast by the BBC throughout the United Kingdom on satellite and Virgin on Demand. The channel was launched at 21:00 on Friday 19 September 2008. The name Alba is the Gaelic word 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 partners are MG Alba and the BBC.[1][2][3]

On-air for up to seven hours a day, BBC Alba broadcasts throughout the UK on satellite (Sky Digital & Freesat) and it was hoped to be on Virgin from launch. The BBC and Virgin Media are still in negotiations about broadcasting the station. Some programmes from the last seven days can be viewed online on BBC iPlayer and the channel can also be watched live through iPlayer (a TV licence is required). Subject to review by the BBC Trust, it will be broadcast on Freeview, in Scotland only, from the digital switchover (2010). The channel is funded and operated jointly by MG Alba and the BBC. Whilst the partnership runs the channel, Gaelic programming on BBC Two Scotland will continue at least until digital switchover takes place. The Gaelic Digital Service will also include BBC Radio nan Gàidheal during downtime hours (alongside simulcasts of BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Radio Five Live) and online content.

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.[4]



In 2007, the BBC Trust opened a consultation for a Gaelic digital service in partnership will the Gaelic Media Service (now MG Alba). Following the BBC Trust consultation in November 2007, the Audience Council Scotland recommended their support for the creation of the service on 7th December 2007, stating that the Trust should peruse carriage of the service on digital terrestrial television and that existing 'gaelic zone' programming on BBC Scotland should remain after the launch.[5][6] On 28 January 2008, the BBC Trust gave the go-ahead for a Gaelic channel.


Launch night

The channel began broadcasting at 21:00 on 19 September 2008 with a launch video featuring a new rendition of the Runrig song, Alba. The first part of a live celidh 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 21:30. The channel's first independent commission, Peter Manuel – Deireadh an Uilc? (Peter Manuel - The End of Evil?), a drama documentary produced by SMG Productions, was shown at 22:30 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 21:00 and 22:30. There was also a launch event held at the National Museum of Scotland, which was recorded by the channel's news service An Là.


On-air for up to seven hours a day, BBC Alba broadcasts throughout the UK on satellite (Sky Digital 168 and Freesat 110) and it was hoped to be on Virgin from launch.

BBC Alba will be available on Virgin Media in due course. [7] During March 2009, BBC Alba programming was made available to Virgin Media customers on demand through BBC iPlayer and Catch Up On Demand. However, live broadcast is still not available.

The channel is also available on the BBC iPlayer website, alongside several third-party internet TV companies.

Subject to review by the BBC Trust and a recommendation from the Audience Council Scotland in 2009, it will be broadcast on Freeview, in Scotland only, from the digital switchover (2010), this is under the proviso that reach of the service extends beyond the core Gaelic audience to 250,000.


BBC Alba channel ident

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 3 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.[8]

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.[9]

A nightly half-hour news programme, An Là, is aired on weeknights at 20:00 with newsreaders Angela Maclean and Iain Maclean. Radio Personality of the Year, Derek Murray, is their resident sports reporter. Spòrs on Saturday nights features weekly coverage of a selected SPL match. 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.


BBC Alba concentrates on three sports, football, rugby and shinty.[10]

The station broadcasts one full SPL game every Saturday night - an arrangement due to continue until the end of the 2009-10 season.[11] The game shown is a selected one not covered by either live Setanta Sports or on an on-demand basis by BT Vision and shown three hours after the end of the match.[12]. The match only includes 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.[13] BBC Alba then started broadcasting First Division games, beginning with the match between Airdrie United and Clyde on 22 February 2009.[13]

BBC Alba recently struck a deal with the Scottish rugby authorities to show one live rugby, Scottish Hydro Electric Premiership Division One match every weekend.[14]


Pacific Quay in Glasgow where BBC Alba is transmitted from

BBC Alba has four studios across Scotland in Stornoway, Glasgow, Inverness and Portree. Continuity and channel management is based in Stornoway while the news services will be based in Inverness. [15] 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 will be used to transmit the programmes.[8] 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.[16][17]

Independent Production Companies

A number of independent companies have been commissioned to produce content for the new 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)


BBC Alba is funded by MG Alba, which is financed by the Scottish Government, and BBC Scotland.

The BBC currently spends £3.2 million on radio content and £2.1 million for TV and online. The BBC contributes an additional £2.5 million to the station. (BBC figures exclude distribution costs.) MG Alba will apply the majority of its budget (£12.4 million in 2008/09) to the Gaelic Digital Service.


Critics 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[18]). 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".[19] The model is, however, both common and intentional as it is on comparable channels such as the Irish channel TG4 or EITB.

See also


External links


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