BBC Alba costs £150 per viewer

By Cara Sulieman

BBC SCOTLAND has spent a whopping £30 million pounds on their Gaelic language channel, without knowing exactly how many people are watching.

BBC Alba received the cash while bosses ordered independent auditors NOT to count the number of viewers.

The only figures available for the specialist channel come from the corporation themselves, who admit only 200,000 a week tune in.

This means spending on the channel equates to £150 per viewer.

“Doesn’t want Alba reported”

Answers to a Freedom on Information request revealed that the channel is part funded by £10.1 million from Scottish Government funded MG Alba, formerly the Gaelic Media Service, and £10.7 million from BBC Scotland.

A further £9.8 million has been spent commissioning, producing and archiving a library of Gaelic programmes in the last two years which have been earmarked for BBC Alba.

But bosses don’t have independent figures to show how many people are watching the expensive programming.

Most TV channels monitor audience figures through the independent Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB). But BBC Alba uses polling through TNS System Three.

A BARB spokeswoman said: “Channels are only reported by BARB on request. The BBC does not want BBC Alba reported.”

“Not so cautious”

Broadcasting expert Dr Dee Amy-Chinn from Stirling University said it seemed the usual rules didn’t apply to the Gaelic language channel.

She said: “It is unusual not to have viewer audience figures collated by BARB but Alba is an unusual channel. The same rules don’t seem to apply.

“They are filling a gap in the market that the market will not fill on its own.”

And media expert Professor Sarah Oates from Glasgow University, added: “BBC Scotland is so well funded that they are not as cautious with money as they should be.

“Scottish people need to make the decision whether this channel is worth it – not the BBC or ministers.”

The Beeb defended their project, saying that it was a “firm favourite” with audiences.

Head of public policy and corporate affairs at BBC Scotland, Ian Small, said: “BBC Alba has been able to establish itself as a firm viewing favourite among Gaelic and non-Gaelic audiences, with a 70 per cent weekly reach among the former.

“The BBC Trust is currently reviewing BBC Alba’s progress towards its aims, particularly around education and achieving wider appeal beyond existing speakers.”

The channel carries dramas like Eailbheas staring Greg Hemphill and reality programme Cuibhlichean an Fhortain, where teams renovate cars for profit.


  1. what about all the public money being used to support a 1hr programme advertising 2 big commercial football clubs, Celtic and Rangers. No other public serviced channel would allow that to happen……

  2. […] before the Sunday Mail’s ‘exclusive’ follow-up last week (and Edinburgh agency Deadline’s follow-up of that). Indeed it was one of the stories which helped me win the multimedia journalist of the year award […]

  3. Not sure what this adds to the debate about Alba. But I am not Scottish, do not speak Gaelic and live on the South coast of England. Many evenings Alba is my default programme through Freesat. This evening (like so many evenings) my jaw dropped when I switched from X-Factor to Alba to see many of my favourite musicians from Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada and Europe queueing up to perform. The programme was interupted three times by friends in other parts of England phoning to ask me if I was watching Alba. I can hear music like this on Radio three and Radio two occasionally. I have seen music like this on BBC and ITV once in a blue moon. But I can’t believe that there is a TV station anywhere in the world that puts out such a constant stream of Celtic based or related tradional music of such quality. It is a richness of culture that I find truly mind blowing.

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