Head of new BBC Scotland channel puts audience feedback ahead of politics

The man in charge of BBC Scotland’s new channel has vowed that it will be serving audiences rather than politicians - as he pledged it would take risks, unearth the stars of the future and help revolutionise the broadcasting industry north of the border.

Steve Carson insisted political debate about the new channel was not on the BBC’s radar in the run-up to its launch on Sunday evening.

And he insisted that audience feedback was its “first, foremost and only” concern as it prepared to roll out more than 900 hours of new content over the next 12 months.

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Mr Carson urged people who had decided to shun BBC Scotland in protest at its political coverage to give the channel a chance, insisting its programming was designed to appeal to “all parts of the audience.”

BBC Scotland will shortly unveil its new channel

Mr Carson, previously head of content production at BBC Northern Ireland, was appointed in September 2017 to head up the new channel, which will have a £32m budget and broadcast its core content between 7pm and midnight.

It will herald the launch of a long-awaited Scottish “news hour,” show, which will go out each night at 9pm, a Scottish equivalent of Question Time, a weekly People’s News show, giving “ordinary Scots” drawn from around the country the chance to have their say on the latest burning issue,” and a topical news review hosted by Still Game star Sanjeev Kohli.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Carson insisted many of the channel’s key shows would either go out live or would be highly topical - despite fears it will have to rely heavily on repeats due to its budget.

But he expects much of its audience to come via catch-up services on the BBC iPlayer, watched on mobile phones and tablets rather than in living rooms and be fuelled by clips on social media, reflecting changing viewing habits.

Steve Carson, Head of Multi-Platform Commissioning - BBC Scotland. Picture: Alan Peebles

The launch is being planned against a backdrop of controversy over the selection of audiences for Question Time when it is made in Scotland. Its production company, Mentorn, is also behind BBC Scotland’s new Debate Night show.

MP Hannah Bardell, the SNP’s media spokeswoman, who is among those to question whether the channel’s budget is too low, has warned the BBC must “regain the trust that it lost with so many people in Scotland in 2014,” adding that a “wider, outlward ooking view” was needed.

Mr Carson said: “My job, and the job my team have, is to listen the audience. We’re very receptive to audience feedback and research. That’s the first, foremost and only concern. Any noise or political stuff is not on our radar.

“We’re broadcasters, we’re here for the audience. That’s the only market we serve.

“There will be a range of programmes on the channel which will appeal to all parts of the audience. I would ask people to take another look at BBC Scotland and see what they think after a few months.”

BBC Scotland has pledged that the new channel will ensure that viewers across Scotland will be able to see more of their lives, tell more of their stories and explore more of their interests on screen.

Among the first shows to be confirmed are documentary going behind the scenes with Scotland’s biggest Asian wedding planners, a talent show following Emeli Sande as she tries to find stars of the future among street buskers, a show following Scottish make-up vlogger Jamie Genevieve and a gritty drama tackling gang culture and drugs in Edinburgh.

Mr Carson said: “It’s a significant moment for BBC Scotland. The channel will be super-charging the amount of original content made in Scotland for Scottish audiences.

“I’ve seen through my work in Northern Ireland how the power of local content and stories that relate to the lives of the audience can cut through a very cluttered market. We want to really focus on contemporary Scotland and the lives of people who live here.”

BBC Scotland has admitted as much as half of the content on the channel will be repeats.

However, Mr Carson said: “The channel should feel it is on now and is about now. A lot of the schedule will either be live or topical. We’re moving to a situation where everything we broadcast on the channel will exist on BBC Scotland’s iPlayer space. We can see audiences like other chances to see things; they don’t necessarily want to sit down to watch something when it’s on live.”

Mr Carson pledged that the channel would also be showcasing new writers and directors from the outset.

He said: “It’s a place to experiment. That’s in the interests of the audience as much as the creative sector. We’re all about trying new things. It’s a choice to take risks. There are safer versions of this channel we could have done.

“Properly done, a good format can bring audiences to the most unlikely subject. Who’d have thought shows about ballroom dancing or baking would’ve been big hits?”