Memorandum from MG ALBA

 

1. About MG ALBA

MG ALBA (the operating name of Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gidhlig or Gaelic Media Service) has formed a partnership with the BBC to broadcast BBC ALBA, the Gaelic digital television channel, which was launched in September 2008. BBC ALBA is the first partnership channel to operate under a BBC licence.

 

MG ALBA was originally established (as the Gaelic Television Committee) under the Broadcasting Act 1990, and its current remit under the Communications Act 2003 is to secure that a wide and diverse range of high quality programmes in Gaelic is made available to persons in Scotland. MG ALBA is funded by the Scottish Government and regulated by Ofcom.

 

2. Responding to the Committee's inquiry

MG ALBA welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Committee's inquiry on the future for local and regional media. Our response will concentrate on three of the subjects on which the committee has called for views:

 

the impact on local media of recent and future developments in digital convergence, media technology and changing consumer behaviour

the future of local radio and television news

incentives for investment in local content

 

3. Developments in digital media technology and consumer behaviour

BBC ALBA is currently available on digital satellite (Sky 168 and Freesat 110). In addition to the television channel, there is also a Gaelic radio station (Radio nan Gaidheal) and online services including www.bbcalba.co.uk and "watch again" opportunities on the BBC iPlayer. Carriage of BBC ALBA on cable is currently being negotiated with Virgin Media, and carriage on digital terrestrial television (DTT, also known as Freeview) is expected to become possible at switchover, subject to review of the service by the BBC Trust.

 

Audience research indicates that 72% of Gaelic-speaking viewers who currently have access to the channel are tuning in at least once a week. The partnership is committed to securing carriage for BBC ALBA on all existing and emerging digital platforms, so that all Scottish viewers can receive BBC ALBA after switchover, whatever digital system they have invested in.

 

4. The future of local radio and television news

News and current affairs are consistently reported as the most highly valued genres in research conducted among Gaelic-speaking viewers of BBC ALBA. Broadcast news on both television and radio provides an important service to a language community that is not well served by print media, as there are no Gaelic newspapers and few English-language newspapers have a regular Gaelic column.

 

The BBC's team of Gaelic journalists contributes to news content across three media - television, radio and online - providing local (Highlands and Islands), regional (Scottish), national (UK), and international news. BBC ALBA broadcasts a half-hour nightly news programme, An L, and a weekly news round-up, Seachd L, as well as award-winning current affairs magazine programme Erpa. Radio nan Gaidheal carries regular news bulletins throughout the day and in-depth morning and drive-time news programmes, and Gaelic news articles are available on the BBC news website. The Gaelic news service draws on the wider BBC news gathering operation, and stories and footage gathered for Gaelic news programmes are also made available to other BBC news services. The BBC ALBA news teams are based in Inverness and Glasgow, and a number of video journalists work from other locations in the Highlands and Islands.

 

5. Incentives for investment in local content

MG ALBA receives a Treasury Grant (the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund) from the Scottish Government. In 2008-09 the Fund was 12.4 million. The entirety of MG ALBA's content budget is spent in Scotland, and around two-thirds of this is allocated to independent production companies. The existence of the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund since 1990 has enabled the creation and development of the independent production sector for Gaelic content, and the launch of BBC ALBA has led to a considerable increase in the number of hours of content commissioned from these companies.

 

New commissioning deals based on four-year agreements with production companies for regular delivery of content in certain programme genres is allowing the sector to plan for the medium and long term, to hire and train staff, and to develop more sustainable business models. The benefits of Gaelic content production, for the economy, for the Gaelic community and for the production sector's skills base, is of particular importance in economically fragile areas such as the Western Isles, and MG ALBA welcomes opportunities to explore with enterprise agencies, with government and with other partners in the private and public sectors new ways to make best use of available funding sources, to attract new investment and to create effective partnerships.

 

May 2009