BBC Alba

Last updated

BBC Alba.svg
Launched19 September 2008;10 years ago (2008-09-19)
Owned by BBC and MG ALBA
Picture format 16:9 576i SDTV
SloganA new channel for Scotland / Sianal Ùr Gàidhlig
Country United Kingdom
Language Scottish Gaelic
Broadcast areaUnited Kingdom
Headquarters Pacific Quay (Glasgow) and Stornoway
Sister channel(s) BBC One Scotland
BBC Scotland
Website Official website Blue pencil.svg
Freeview Channel 7 (Scotland only)
Freesat Channel 109
Sky Channel 141 (Scotland)
Channel 169 (Rest of UK)
Astra 2E 10803 H 22000 5/6 [1]
Virgin Media Channel 161
Streaming media
BBC iPlayer Watch live (UK only)
TVPlayer 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. [2] [3] [4]

Scottish Gaelic Celtic language native to Scotland

Scottish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic, sometimes also referred to simply as Gaelic, is a Celtic language native to the Gaels of Scotland. A member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, Scottish Gaelic, like Modern Irish and Manx, developed out of Middle Irish. Most of modern Scotland was once Gaelic-speaking, as evidenced especially by Gaelic-language placenames.

Digital television (DTV) is the transmission of television signals, including the sound channel, using digital encoding, in contrast to the earlier television technology, analog television, in which the video and audio are carried by analog signals. It is an innovative advance that represents the first significant evolution in television technology since color television in the 1950s. Digital TV transmits in a new image format called HDTV, with greater resolution than analog TV, in a wide screen aspect ratio similar to recent movies in contrast to the narrower screen of analog TV. It makes more economical use of scarce radio spectrum space; it can transmit multiple channels, up to 7, in the same bandwidth occupied by a single channel of analog television, and provides many new features that analog television cannot. A transition from analog to digital broadcasting began around 2006 in some countries, and many industrial countries have now completed the changeover, while other countries are in various stages of adaptation. Different digital television broadcasting standards have been adopted in different parts of the world; below are the more widely used standards:

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.


BBC ALBA has an average viewership of 637,000 adults over the age of 16 in Scotland each week. [5]


In 2007, the BBC Trust opened a consultation for a Gaelic digital service in partnership with 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. [6] [7] On 28 January 2008, the BBC Trust gave the go-ahead for a Gaelic channel.

The BBC Trust was the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) between 2007 and 2017. It was operationally independent of BBC management and external bodies, and its stated aim was to make decisions in the best interests of licence-fee payers. On 12 May 2016, it was announced in the House of Commons that, under the next Royal Charter, the regulatory functions of the BBC Trust were to be transferred to Ofcom.

The Audience Council Scotland (ACS) was created upon establishment of the BBC Trust in January 2007. It replaced the Broadcasting Council for Scotland which had many responsibilities the present Council now has.

BBC Scotland Scottish division of the British Broadcasting Corporation

BBC Scotland is a division of the BBC and the main public broadcaster in Scotland.

The channel began broadcasting on satellite at 9:00 pm on 19 September 2008 with a launch video featuring a new rendition of the Runrig song, ALBA. The first part of a live cèilidh 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 9:30 pm. 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 10:30 pm 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 9:00 pm and 10:30 pm and there was a launch event held at the National Museum of Scotland, which was recorded by the channel's news service An Là .

Runrig Scottish Celtic rock group

Runrig was a Scottish Celtic rock band formed on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 1973. From its inception, the band's line-up included songwriters Rory Macdonald and Calum Macdonald. The line-up during most of the 1980s and 1990s also included Donnie Munro, Malcolm Jones, Iain Bayne, and Pete Wishart. Munro left the band in 1997 to pursue a career in politics and was replaced by Bruce Guthro. Wishart left in 2001 and was replaced by Brian Hurren. The band released fourteen studio albums, with a number of their songs sung in Scottish Gaelic.

A cèilidh or céilí is a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. In its most basic form, it simply means a social visit. In contemporary usage, it usually involves dancing and playing Gaelic folk music, either at a house party or a larger concert at a social hall or other community gathering place.

Skye largest and most northerly large island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland

Skye, or the Isle of Skye, is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillin, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Although it has been suggested that the Gaelic Sgitheanach describes a winged shape there is no definitive agreement as to the name's origins.

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. [8] 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 [9] and the service launched on Freeview on 8 June 2011. [10] The channel also launched on Virgin Media (Scotland only) on 18 May 2011, [11] [12] and was made available nationwide on the Virgin Media and Sky platforms, the former on 6 November 2012.

Freeview (UK) digital terrestrial television platform in the United Kingdom

Freeview is the United Kingdom's digital terrestrial television platform. It is operated by DTV Services Ltd, a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and transmitter operator Arqiva. It was launched in 2002, taking over the licence from ITV Digital which collapsed that year. The service provides consumer access via an aerial to the six DTT multiplexes covering the United Kingdom. In April 2014 it had some 60 DVB-T TV channels, 26 digital radio channels, 10 HD channels, six text services, 11 streamed channels, and one interactive channel. A number of new HD channels launched in 2014, from a new group of multiplexes awarded to Arqiva. The new HD channels were launched in selected areas on 10 December 2013 with a further roll-out during 2014.


Pacific Quay in Glasgow, from where BBC ALBA is transmitted. BBC Scotland.jpg
Pacific Quay in Glasgow, from where BBC ALBA is transmitted.

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.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Sky UK British pay TV company

Sky UK is a British telecommunications company which serves the United Kingdom. Sky provides television and broadband Internet services, fixed line and mobile telephone services to consumers and businesses in the United Kingdom. It is the UK's largest pay-TV broadcaster with 11 million customers as of 2015. It was the UK's most popular digital TV service until it was overtaken by Freeview in April 2007. Its corporate headquarters are in Isleworth.

Freesat is a British free-to-air satellite television service, provided by joint venture between the BBC and ITV plc. The service was formed as a memorandum in 2007 and has been marketed since 6 May 2008. Freesat offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a broadly similar selection of channels available without subscription for users purchasing a receiver.

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 [13] MG ALBA applies the majority of its budget (£12.4 million in 2008/09) to the Gaelic Digital Service.

BBC ALBA continuity presentation and channel management is based in Stornoway, while the news services are based in Inverness. [14] BBC Scotland's headquarters at Pacific Quay in Glasgow is used to transmit the programmes. [15]


BBC ALBA combines television, radio and on-line programme content. 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 every day, with the weekend news provision beginning in 2018.


Output on the channel consists of news, current affairs, sport, drama, documentary, entertainment, education, religion and children's programming, broadcast on most days between 5 pm and 12 am.

Children's programmes are shown for two hours every weekday, between 17:00 and 19:00. Starting in 2018, a rebranding initiative has the first hour is presented as CBeebies ALBA and the second hour as CBBC ALBA.

A nightly news programme, An Là , airs nightly throughout the week, usually in its regular slot of 8:00 pm. Saturday night features weekly coverage of a selected Scottish Premiership match and matches are regularly shown from the Scottish Women's Premier League and the friendlies and competitive matches involving the Scottish Women's National Team.


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. Controversially, no English dialogue on the channel is subtitled into Gaelic.


BBC ALBA concentrates on three sports: football, rugby and shinty. [16]

During the 2009–10 season, the station broadcast one full Scottish Premier League game every Saturday night. [17] 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. [18] 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. [19] BBC ALBA then started broadcasting First Division games, beginning with the match between Airdrie United and Clyde on 22 February 2009. [19]

BBC ALBA also struck a deal with the Scottish rugby authorities to show one live rugby, Scottish Premiership Division One match every weekend. [20]

For the 2015-16 season, BBC ALBA will show 20 live matches (excluding Rangers) from either 2015-16 Scottish Championship (including the play-off final), League 1 or League 2 as well as four matches from the Scottish Challenge Cup. The station also altered their coverage of Scottish Premiership highlights, showing one hour highlights of two non-televised matches on a Saturday and Sunday night at 22:00. Other football coverage includes all Scotland U21s and Women's matches. As well as the final of the 2015-16 Scottish Junior Cup.

In 2010 BBC ALBA bought the rights for Celtic League rugby jointly with public service broadcasters from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales. [21]

Independent production companies

A number of independent companies have been commissioned to produce content for the channel, or have productions currently[ when? ] airing. These include:


English content and lack of Gaelic subtitles

The Gaelic community, including writers Aonghas MacNeacail,[ not in citation given ] Angus Peter Campbell,[ not in citation given ] Lisa Storey and musician Allan MacDonald,[ not in citation given ] have criticised the non-availability of Gaelic subtitles, and the emphasis on English language interviews and reportage in the channel's content for adults. [22] 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. [23] 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. [24]

Sports programming

Between its launch in September 2008 and the beginning of 2010, the BBC ALBA channel 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 [25] ). 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".[ citation needed ] The model is, however, both common and intentional as it is on comparable channels such as the Irish language channel TG4, the Basque broadcaster EITB or the Welsh channel S4C. In Europe, these channels' main mission is not commercial, but the promotion of the original languages.


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 5 pm and midnight); however the criticism has not been directed at the BBC's decision to extend BBC ALBA to Freeview in principle. [9] [26] 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. [27] 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. [28] On 2 December 2013, it was confirmed that more radio stations were made available 24 hours in Scotland, but with some trade-offs. [29] 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.

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  4. "Launch date for Gaelic TV channel". BBC News. 13 August 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  6. "Audience Council Scotland - Meeings". BBC. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  7. "Audience Council Scotland - Audience". BBC. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  8. "Viewer figure boost for Gaelic TV". BBC News. 27 October 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  9. 1 2 "Trust approves BBC Alba carriage on Freeview". BBC. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  10. "BBC Alba Freeview date unveiled". BBC News. 23 May 2011.
  11. "BBC Alba to Begin Broadcasting on Virgin TV". allmediascotland. 17 May 2011.
  12. "BBC Alba Launches on Virgin Media". Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  13. "The BBC Executive's Review and Assessment" (PDF). Annual Report and Accounts 2011/12. BBC. 2012. pp. 2–64. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  14. "MG ALBA - Frequently Asked Questions". MG ALBA. 19 September 2009. Archived from the original on 13 April 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  15. "MG Alba Fios Naidheachd". 19 September 2008. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  16. "SFL's delight at joy sponsorship deal for Challenge Cup". The Daily Record. 11 August 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  17. "BBC Gaelic to screen SPL matches". BBC News. 15 July 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  18. "Geamaichean a' Phrìomh Lìog air an t-Seirbheis Dhidseataich". Retrieved 23 March 2010.(in Scottish Gaelic)
  19. 1 2 BBC ALBA to screen live SFL games, BBC Sport, 3 February 2009.
  20. Ferguson, David. "Scottish clubs agree to BBC ALBA showing ten games live - Sport". Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  21. Clutton, Graham (9 June 2010). "Celtic Rugby secure improved broadcast deal for Magners League coverage". Retrieved 9 June 2010.
  22. "BBC ALBA is not a Gaelic channel". BBCAlbaNews. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  23. Allan MacDonald and Lisa Storey (11 September 2014). "English content on ALBA harmful to Gaelic development". West Highland Free. Retrieved 12 September 2014.[ dead link ]
  24. "Freagairt do draghan mu MG ALBA". West Highland Free Press (in Scottish Gaelic). 11 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014.[ dead link ]
  25. "CnaG ¦ Census 2001 Scotland: Gaelic speakers by council area". Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  26. "BBC ALBA to be shown on Freeview". BBC News. 21 December 2010. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
  27. "BBC change of heart on digital radio 'simple common sense'". Scottish Lib Dems. 19 May 2011. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011.
  28. "BBC Alba on Freeview". BBC Internet Blog. 24 May 2011.
  29. "I can hear it coming In the air tonight: the return of five radio stations in the evenings on Freeview in Scotland". BBC About the BBC Blog. 2 December 2013.