Earlier this month, more than 100 programme-makers from across Scotland gathered in Glasgow to look ahead at future plans for the new BBC Scotland TV channel and to take an early view of the results of their work in building a brand new service from scratch.
These writers, producers and directors are the driving forces who are meeting the exceptional challenge of creating more than 900 hours of new programming for audiences in Scotland each year. At the briefing, we reflected on some of the things that the new channel has been able to deliver; documentaries like Getting Hitched Asian Style, Inside Central Station and Real Kashmir FC; debate and discussion shows from People’s News to Debate Night; youth-oriented content like Up For It; and a focus on new creative talent with strands like Next Big Thing.
We’ve invested in original journalism – with 80 new posts created – which has allowed our daily news offer, The Nine, to experiment with fresh ways of storytelling and to break stories such as the high sickness rate of paramedics due to stress and the possible impact of universal basic income. We’ve also provided more analysis of many topics which has enhanced our overall News output both in Scotland and across the UK.
Of course, the creative businesses, large and small, who were represented at the briefing also wanted to know how audiences have responded to their work. The data shared at the briefing was positive. In simple terms, the channel has got off to a good start.
Digital channels, those outside the traditional Top 5, typically reach an average share of TV viewing of less than 1 per cent. But over its first 10 weeks the BBC Scotland channel has averaged a 3 per cent share of TV audiences each evening and it’s exceptional for a digital channel to have a share of audience near the Top 5.
On “reach” – the proportion of the available audience who tune in at some point each week – it’s also an encouraging picture. During the same period across the week, just under a quarter of Scotland’s population watched programmes on the new channel. This was actually ahead of Channel 5.
It’s worth noting that the channel is performing ahead of projections by the independent regulator, Ofcom.
In terms of who is watching, the channel has made a distinctive start and in its first few months on air, BBC Scotland has the youngest adult age profile of any BBC TV channel.
But beyond the raw numbers, it’s the creative space that the channel provides to try new things that programme-makers and audiences are picking up on.
For example, we have space to premiere feature documentaries such as Nae Pasaran or Last Breath, or award-winning dramas like Iona. We can revisit cultural landmarks like Tutti Frutti and Orphans, and we’ve extended our Sports offer through live coverage of the Scottish Championship. And of course people are watching our content in a variety of different ways including iPlayer and social media. A single clip from A View From The Terrace, for example, has now been viewed more than 700,000 times on social media.
Within the industry, the channel is making people sit up and take notice of what the creative sector in Scotland is capable of. Already some series commissioned for the channel have been picked up by network services, with the potential for new investment in future series.
These are of course still early days. The performance of individual programmes will vary significantly from night to night and across the evening. Not every risk will – or should – pay off. And the channel will evolve as we learn even more from our audiences about what they want and when, and how, they want to watch it.
There’s no doubt that there is huge creative potential in Scotland ready to be tapped – with jobs and other economic benefits to follow. The BBC Scotland channel is just one part of that endeavour, alongside new investment through Screen Scotland and Channel 4’s plans to expand their operations here. The story so far though suggests that viewers and the wider creative sector are starting to see the benefits of this step change in the volume and range of programmes made in Scotland for Scottish audiences.
Steve Carson is Head of Commissioning for BBC Scotland