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Move to Freeview reported to have brought major viewers boost for BBC Alba

By Hamish Mackay

October 19, 2011 | 3 min read

The fledgling Gaelic television channel, BBC Alba, has notched up a significant increase in viewing figures since becoming available on Freeview, according to a report in The Herald.

In the week that the Royal National Mod is being staged in Stornoway, The Herald’s Highlands correspondent, David Ross, reveals: “A few months since the coverage was extended from satellite, the station – which broadcasts on Channel 8 – will shortly report a stunning increase in viewing figures thanks to a successful mix of Scottish Premier League matches, rugby, award-winning analysis of European affairs, and traditional music.

“They show that 10% or so of Scotland’s population now watch the channel.

“They also reveal that three-year-old BBC Alba, which moved to Freeview in June, now attracts as many viewers within Scotland as the 29-year-old terrestrial Welsh language channel S4C does in Wales.”

There are 10 times more Welsh speakers (611,000) as there are Gaels in Scotland, (58,652), and S4C has been supported generously by Government – last year by close on £100million - almost 10 times what BBC Alba received.

The Herald has learned more than 500,000 watched BBC Alba on average in June, July, August, September, which are traditionally the lowest viewing months in the year for all channels.

Ross points out: “These figures are for viewers in Scotland and take no account of any exiles who watch on satellite or the internet in the rest of the UK and around the world. Neither do they include those watching children’s programmes broadcast in Gaelic, or those visiting the BBC iPlayer who amounted to one million last year.”

He claims BBC Alba compares well against English language channels. Although the figures are calculated differently, The Herald understands that Alba’s reach is now greater than BBC4’s in Scotland.

A BBC spokesman is quoted as saying that BBC4 had an average weekly reach for more than 15 minutes of 11.2% UK-wide, and that Scotland normally mirrored this figure very closely.

The Herald says that it is understood that BBC Alba’s reach since June has been around 12%. That ranking puts BBC Alba close to the likes of Sky Living, 5*, Yesterday, 5 USA, Sky Sports 1, Sky News, ITV2+1, and Sky Sports News.

It quotes an industry source as saying: “BBC Alba had been at around 220,000 viewers when it was just available on satellite, if you included the 40,000 odd who would be watching it for 15 minutes or so.

“It was hoped that Freeview would add 100,000, perhaps 150,000 at a real push. But the increase is more than double what had been the most optimistic target.

“They really are quite stunning figures. They show that around 80% of the Gaelic community is watching, while only about 45% of Welsh speakers watch S4C.

“But perhaps more important is that more and more Scots are watching Alba whether they are Gaels, learners or monoliths. The figures certainly answer all the critics.”

The Herald reports that Alasdair Morrison, chairman of MG Alba, the Gaelic media group set up by the Broadcasting Act of 2003, which is the BBC’s partner in Alba, refused to confirm the figures, but added: “I am certainly encouraged by the overall trend.”

In a column for The Drum, former Daily Record online editor Iain Hepburn queries the BBC Alba figures.

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