BBC Alba Freeview: huge increase in Gaelic TV viewing numbers

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By a Newsnet reporter

The Gaelic channel, BBC Alba, is gaining new viewers in leaps and bounds after it was recently made available at no cost to anyone with Freeview.

BBC Alba which broadcasts on Channel 8, is due to report a stunning increase in viewing figures – more than double the 100,000 to 150,000 extra viewers hoped for with the switch to Freeview in June – thanks to a popular mix of Scottish Premier League matches, rugby matches, traditional music and the award-winning analysis of European affairs – attracting many non-Gaelic speaking viewers.

The channel enjoyed an average 500,000 viewers in June, July, August, September, normally the lowest viewing months in the year for all channels.

BBC Alba previously had a viewing public of about 220,000 viewers when only available on satellite, including the 40,000 who watched it for about 15 minutes each day.   Now, three years after it began, BBC Alba, which moved to Freeview, has as many viewers within Scotland as the 29-year-old Welsh language channel S4C has in Wales, this accomplished with approximately 10% of the £100m budget of S4C.

This success is important for the Gaelic language considering that there are 611,000 Welsh speakers in Wales but only 58,652 Gaels in Scotland.

It’s also encouraging that these figures don’t actually take into account exiles who watch on satellite or the internet in the rest of the UK and around the world, nor do they include figures for Gaelic children’s programmes, or BBC iPlayer which hit one million last year.

Figures reveal the channel is popular among the native Gaelic speaking population in Scotland with around 80% of the Gaelic community watching Alba, moreover, the figures show that 10% or so of Scotland’s population now watch the channel.

The numbers are clear, more and more Scots are watching Alba whether they are Gaels, learners or non-Gaelic speakers.

BBC Alba seems to be contributing to a rising popularity of Gaelic culture.  The Royal National Mod, the annual festival of Gaelic music and culture (on until Saturday 22nd Oct), this year reports more junior entrants than ever before, aided in part by BBC Alba publicity.  Simply put, Gaelic culture is benefiting from increasing BBC Alba viewer numbers.

BBC Alba is also a powerful Gaelic language resource among Gaelic learners providing exposure to the living language as it is spoken.

This is positive but Bòrd na Gàidhlig says that, at the rate of loss of 1000 Gaelic speakers per year (mortality), the number of children entering into primary school Gaelic medium education needs to double over the next six years just to stem the decrease in the number of existing native Gaelic speakers.

The Scottish government saw that there was only one way forward for Scotland’s indigenous language, promote it or see it die out completely – BBC Alba is a part of the solution, a valuable part.