BBC ALBA on Freeview
We've recently had to make some difficult choices at the BBC about how we use our digital TV capacity in Scotland. I thought it would be worth sharing the thinking behind our decisions, including how we were influenced by a principle in the BBC Charter and Agreement and insight about audiences' listening and viewing habits.
BBC ALBA, the Gaelic language TV channel operated by BBC in partnership with MG ALBA, will launch on Freeview in Scotland on 8 June.
BBC ALBA has been available on satellite (Sky and Freesat) for some time and launched on Virgin Media cable on 18 May 2011. The Freeview launch is the final piece of the jigsaw that will make BBC ALBA available to all TV homes in Scotland This will extend the reach of this public service channel allowing it to do more to meet its remit to serve Gaelic-speaking audiences and those who wish to learn the language. Crucially, the Freeview launch supports the universality principle in the BBC Agreement that asks us to give licence fee payers convenient access to the services that are intended for them.
To make space for this new service on Freeview affordably, the BBC Trust gave approval for BBC ALBA to broadcast in Scotland in the evening in place of the thirteen BBC radio services (see below for list) that we currently broadcast. The BBC Trust also challenged BBC Management to look at affordable technical solutions that would allow some radio services to be retained around the clock.
I am pleased to confirm that we have been able to retain three radio services while BBC ALBA is on-air. We decided to prioritise radio stations that are unavailable on FM, to maximise the convenient availability of our radio stations to licence fee payers. Unfortunately we couldn't make space for all seven stations that don't have full FM coverage, so we looked at audiences' radio listening habits on digital television in the evenings and gave priority to the ones that were the most listened to. As a result, the stations that will remain on Freeview in Scotland 24/7 are:
• BBC Radio 5 Live
• BBC Radio 1 Xtra
• BBC Radio 6 Music.
Six of the other radio stations will still be available to listeners on FM radio. The other four remain available on DAB digital radio, free-to-air digital satellite and at bbc.co.uk/radio.
BBC ALBA's transmission hours are:
• Weekdays: 5pm to midnight
• Saturday: 4pm to 1am
• Sundays: 4pm to midnight.
Outside these hours, all thirteen BBC radio services will continue to be available on Freeview in Scotland as now.
We hope that the vast majority of people affected by this change will continue to listen to our radio services by other means, such as FM radio, DAB digital radio, free-to-air digital satellite and at bbc.co.uk/radio. You may be interested to hear that the roll out of the BBC's UK-wide DAB digital radio service continues in Scotland over the summer and into the autumn to bring more people into coverage of the network, extending even as far as Shetland.
This wasn't an easy set of decisions to make - prioritising BBC ALBA over the radio services and then prioritising the more popular digital-only services over the others. The fact remains that in making BBC ALBA available to all TV households in Scotland, in keeping with what the BBC Agreement expects us to do, we have taken away for some parts of the day one option for listening to some of our radio stations. We have sought to minimise the adverse impact on listeners, but a small group of licence fee payers were listening to those services at that time of day on Freeview, and valuing the ability to do so. I regret that these people will be disappointed. The truth is that we had to balance the limited resource of capacity against the overall audience benefit.
Finally, I hope this explanation gives reassurance that we put a great deal of thought and analysis into the decisions we took, weighing up the difficult balances carefully.
Alix Pryde is Director, BBC Distribution
Six that are available on FM: BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal and BBC Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. One that is available on MW: BBC Radio 5Live. And six that are available digitally only: BBC Radios 1Xtra, 4Extra, 5Live Sports Extra, 6Music, BBC Asian Network and the BBC World Service.