I heard about the launch of a Gaelic BBC channel last year when watching a report from Fort William. Today I saw a trailer for BBC Alba. Oh, no, not that one, but this BBC Alba (SMG news and FAQ). And then I noticed that the trailer (paid for by licence fee money) said that the channel would only be available on Skye ... sorry, Sky. And freesat. A search of news sites told me that ...
BBC ALBA will be available on satellite and cable throughout the United Kingdom, with content also available online. BBC ALBA will be available on Freeview, in Scotland only, after the digital switchover, subject to review by the BBC Trust. (source)
The same source went on:
Donald Campbell, MG ALBA’s chief executive, added: “The launch date for BBC ALBA is fast approaching and it won’t be long now before viewers in Scotland have the opportunity to see new Gaelic programmes every day. .... and over the coming months we’ll be broadcasting a wide range of sport, news, children’s programmes, documentaries and entertainment to appeal to young and old alike.”
So - that is only those people who have paid extra for Sky (a competitor of the BBC) or the recently launched Freesat. Too bad if we hoped it might be available immediately on a freeview channel. I guess they cost too much or are too packed with E4 plus 35 minutes, E4 plus 36 minutes, E4 plus 37 minutes, etc.
Sadly the Stornoway Gazette hasn't picked up on this, and I hope that a gaggle of Gaels don't stay in a week on Friday to watch the launch program. No doubt it will all be repeated after the digital switchover. In 2010. Don't expect a discount on the licence for the next two years when you're paying for (another) public channel that you can't receive.
The FAQ states that:
Is e £14m am buidseat airson 2008/09 – £10m bho MG ALBA agus £4m bhon BhBC. Tha MG ALBA maoinichte le Riaghaltas na h-Alba agus air a riaghladh le Ofcom.
The television budget for 2008/09 is £14million, £10m of this being provided by MG ALBA and £4m by BBC Scotland. MG ALBA is funded by the Scottish government and regulated by Ofcom.
If I'm reading that correctly, £10 million comes from the Scottish taxpayer (with a share coming from England), and £4 million from the BBC (with a share from the licence-fee payer). I do not know how many of the target audience have a way of receiving the programmes for two years. I'd guess that if you have a family, you may have Sky. If you like sports, you may have Sky. Will many people be watching the opening Friday night programmes? Maybe they'll be out playing sports or looking after the kids.
I don't know if there will be any Gaelic programmes on BBC2 Scotland on a Thursday night. It was there that Tir is Teanga was broadcast and grabbed the interest of hikers around the UK. Also histories of the Hebrides and life in times past. A diverse range of programs shoe-horned in to an hour-and-a-half. It would be a shame to lose them for a couple of years.
For me, I get so few channels on Freeview and there is so much drivel on terrestrial that I'm planning on getting a 4m composite video cable to run from my pc across the living room to my tv set and then cancel my tv licence fee. I'd still like to pay for Radio 4 though. No doubt it is illegal, but heck, we taxpayers in Scotland are paying for a service that the majority of us won't be able to access for a couple of years without paying an extra charge to a non-public broadcaster or for even more digital hardware ... and the communication regulators see that as being okay? I just hope someone in the Government does the decent thing and gives the go-ahead sooner for the channel to be available on Freeview.