BBC Alba admits repeats of shows are failing Gaelic viewers

Bannan has been shot on location in Skye since 2013 but the channel is short of other new content. Picture: BBC

Bannan has been shot on location in Skye since 2013 but the channel is short of other new content. Picture: BBC

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Scotland’s Gaelic broadcaster has admitted it is now “over-reliant” on repeats and audiences are being let down by a lack of original broadcasting.

BBC Alba chiefs say the combination of a 74 per cent current repeat ratio and a shortage of funding for new shows has created a “serious deficit” for viewers.

It is vital that elements of our content are a ‘must watch’ for the younger Gaelic demographic

Maggie Cunningham

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, they warned it will be “essential” for more original content and wider variety of programmes to be developed if the channel is to remain relevant to Gaelic audiences.

Despite an average audience of more than 700,000 a week, just 4.4 hours of original programming is produced by the BBC each week for BBC Alba because of financial constraints. Its operator, MG Alba, is lobbying for that to be increased to ten hours to bring it into line with Welsh channel S4C.

It has identified addressing a lack of original programming for children and young people, gaps in comedy and entertainment programmes and a lack of weekend news programmes as key priorities.

BBC Alba receives almost £13 million in funding from the Scottish Government, as well as £8m from the corporation. But in a response to a consultation on the new BBC charter, MG Alba has expressed fears that the current funding of the Gaelic channel, which was launched in 2008, is leaving it at significant risk of “audience fatigue.”

It stated: “A full, comprehensive service for the BBC ALBA audience is not possible under the current funding settlement. It is MG Alba’s view that continued under-investment in BBC Alba will put at risk the enormous achievements of the channel so far. This has repercussions not only for the channel, but also for the BBC and the status of Gaelic in Scotland.”

Launching its annual report, MG Alba also announced a fourth series of drama series Bannan, which has been made on Skye since 2013, will go into production in August.

MG Alba chairwoman Maggie Cunningham said: “Our audience is over-reliant on repeat material and this is the most serious deficit in our service. In our discussions with the UK government and with the BBC, we have made clear that an increased level of content is essential in service development and it is vital that elements of our content are a ‘must watch’ for the younger Gaelic demographic.

“We need a greater number of original programmes and a wider variety of content.”

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