Launch of new BBC Scotland TV channel delayed until February

The BBC's new Scottish channel will not begin broadcasting until February next year after plans for an autumn launch were delayed, the corporation has announced.

The channel will be based at the BBC Scotland HQ in Pacific Quay, Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

The BBC Scotland channel, which will focus on news and current affairs, was provisionally given the green light by broadcasting regulator Ofcom last month.

It has been given an annual programming budget of more than £32 million and will be on air from 7pm until midnight every day, with a flagship 9pm news show on weeknights.

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Ofcom green-light new BBC Scotland channel

The new channel was originally supposed to launch this autumn, but the BBC said it had decided to delay its first broadcast until next year amid concerns it would be lost in Christmas scheduling.

In an email to staff, BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon said she was more concerned with getting the channel right rather than launching it as soon as possible.

“In deciding when to launch, we looked at a number of options, including late autumn and around Christmas time, but we concluded that coming on air early in the New Year is the best option for us, audiences and our suppliers,” she wrote.

“We took into consideration programme development and production time and audience trends during holidays – especially around the crowded marketing period at Christmas.

“Getting the channel right is preferable to simply getting it on air as quickly as possible and having some additional time after final approval should be beneficial.”

Ms MacKinnon added that the process of commissioning programmes for the new channel was “well under way”, with pilots for the flagship 9pm news show midway through filming.

Ofcom is due to make a final decision on the future of the channel in July, but last month it gave its preliminary approval, saying it was unlikely to crowd out the BBC’s competition in Scotland.

Although around half of the channel’s output is expected to be repeats, it will also commission new programmes that “reflect Scottish life”, including original comedy and drama.

The new channel is set to take the place currently 
occupied by BBC Four on viewers’ electronic programme guides, which will be moved to a less prominent slot in Scotland.

Its creation was announced by BBC director general Lord Hall in February 2017. He described it as the corporation’s “biggest single investment” north of the border for more than 20 years.

Although a dedicated BBC channel in Scotland has long been supported by the Scottish Government, last year Nicola Sturgeon questioned whether its £32m budget was large enough.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said yesterday: “I welcome the new Scottish channel and its potential to improve representation and coverage of Scottish issues and increase commissions from our creative industries.

“It is really important the BBC get this opportunity right and we have urged them to ensure the channel receives a much higher share of the TV licence raised in Scotland than is currently planned, in order to ensure it can deliver high quality innovative programming that reflects contemporary Scotland.

“I also welcome Ofcom’s provisional approval and look forward to a final decision soon so that planning can commence in earnest.”