History of BBC ALBA

Welcome to our section about the history of BBC ALBA


The origins of BBC ALBA go back to 2007 when the BBC Trust wanted to setup a Gaelic television channel for Scottish viewers. The corporation opened up a consultation over forming a partnership with the Gaelic Media Service (operating as MG ALBA), an organisation funded by the Scottish Government and set up in 2003 to promote and ensure there are suitable programmes for those who speak Gaelic (which accounted for just over 1% of the Scottish people, this compares to around 19% of those living in Wales that can speak Welsh). Audience Council Scotland, which was set up to help the BBC trust understand the concerns of viewers north of the border, would oversee the process and provide insight. They gave their approval for the service on the 7th December 2007 on condition that the BBC retain it's gaelic zone strand on BBC Scotland. The BBC Trust gave approval for the new channel on the 28th January 2008.

BBC ALBA would be unique in that it was a joint venture between the BBC and MG ALBA and would operate under a BBC license.The channel would be broadcast from Scotland and the very vast majority of its output would also be of Scottish origin. The name BBC ALBA was chosen because ALBA is the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland. The channel would be financed by BBC Scotland and MG ALBA (which is financed by the Scottish and UK governments and provides the majority of it's revenue, around (£12 million, to the service).

The channel began broadcasting on satellite services on the 19th September 2008 at 9pm, the channel launched with a video travelling over some of the Scottish highlands, the music with that video was a rendition of Runrig song ALBA with various people singing different sections of the song. The first evening was simulcast on BBC Two in Scotland until 10.30pm that evening and there was a special launch event which took place in the National Museum of Scotland.

The first evening consisted of Mary Ann Kennedy presenting a live music gathering from the Scottish island of Skye called a cailidh which is a traditional social gathering often with dancing and music. This was followed by a comedy drama called Eibheas. Later that evening was Peter Manuel - Deireadh an Ulic?, a documentaty produced by their ITV rivals STV.

 The first evening's programmes line up looked like this (the bit in brackets is the titles in English)

9.00pm - Channel launch and Cailidh - part 1
9.30pm - Eibheas (Elvis)
10.00pm - Peter Manuel - Deireadh an Ulic? (Peter Manuel - The End of Evil)?
10.30pm - Cailidh - Part 2


Despite the channel initially only being available to a third of Scots the channel was popuar and the initiall viewing figures indicated an audience of around 650,000 watching per week for the channel's first couple of months.

With these promising numbers and folowing a recommendation from Audience Council Scotland the BBC Trust announced a plan to broadcast the channel on Freeview. BBC ALBA was available on Freeview from the 8th June 2011, having been approved by the BBC trust in late December the previous year. BBC ALBA is only available on Freeview in Scotland. The launch on Freeview would follow the demise of felllow Gaelic language service TeleG on the 23rd May 2011 and BBC ALBA would take over TeleG's former Freeview slot.

BBC ALBA going onto Freeview would cause some logistcal issues due to the available bandwidth. The BBC proposed that during the time that BBC ALBA was on the air they would remove all 13 of their radio channels from the platform. This option was not well recieved and the BBC backed down in part announcing on the 19th May 2011 that they had worked out a solution that would allow at least some of their radio stations to stay available on Freeview during that period. The initial plan was that following some changes they would allow BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC 5 Live and BBC 6 Music to continue broadcasting 24 hours a day, these stations were chosen because they had the higest evening raitings of the BBC radio stations which were not available on the FM frequency. A couple of years later on the 2nd December 2013 the BBC reduced the audio quality on the TV channels in Scotland from 256kbit/s to 192kbit/a, this and transmitting the BBC radio stations on Freeview in mono rather than stereo while BBC ALBA was broadcasting allowed the return of BBC Radio 4, 4 Extra, 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Asian Network to become availlable for 24 hours a day again on Freeview.

BBC ALBA would also be made available on Virgin Media (launching on the 18th May 2011 in Scotland only and to the whole of the UK from the 6th November 2012) and Sky.

BBC ALBA has been popular with viewers but this has not been without issues. The channel has been critised in its use of English language interviews and reporting rather than Gaelic and also the lack of Gaelic subtitling. This lead to a campaign called GAIDHLIG TV to increase Gaelic content on the channel as reported on the BBC Gaelic news service. This situation was not helped when it was decided to introduce a red button service where viewers coud select English Language commentary which was introduced in August 2014 for the Guinness Pro12 rugby. Following the pubic backlash MG ALBA pubically announced in the Highland Free Press that this option would not be expanded for other programmes.

Currently the channel has an average audience of 637,000 adults tuning into the channel each week


BBC ALBA provides a mixture of programmes in the Gaelic language and typically broadcasts between 5pm and 12am. The first two hours of each weekday is dedicated to children's programmes which is provided in the form of CBeebies ALBA and CBBC ALBA, the Gaelic equivlants to the English language services. Unlike the adult programmes on BBC ALBA the children's programmes do not carry subtitles and where an English language children's programme is aired this does not have Gaelic subtitles either. The CBeebies ALBA and CBBC ALBA services started on Monday 17th September 2018 as part of the channel's 10th birthday celebrations (the channel actually launched on the 19th September).

Sport also features heavily in the schedule, in the Gaelic language of course, the channel has more sport than any other Scottish channel with over three hours each week of football and rugby. Saturday nights often contain coverage of the Scottish Premisership and the Scottish Woman's Premier League. Also shown on BBC ALBA is matches involving the Scottish Woman's National Team. The channel was broadcasting a Scottish Premiership match every Saturday Night three hours after the match. These were in Gaelic with English subtitles and were matches not shown elsewhere by BT Vision or Sky.

BBC ALBA's coverage of the Scottish Football League started in the 2008/09 season with the final of the Challenge Cup followed by the First Division game between Airdire United and Clyde on the 22nd February 2009.

IN 2010 BBC ALBA started showing Celtic League rugby which is done with the assistance from other broadcasters in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales.

By the 2015/16 season football on BBC ALBA consisted of 20 lives matches from either the Scottish Championsip, League 1 or League 2. This would not include any games where Rangers were playing. During this time there were changes to Scottish Permiership highlights where the channel was showing highlights of two non televisised matches on a Saturday and Sunday. The channel was also covering the Scotland U21s and Woman's matches along with the Scottish Junior Cup

The coverage of football on BBC ALBA has not always been welcomed, particulary within the Gaelic community. Even after BBC having lost athird of its viewers between its launch in 2008 and 2010 the number of viewers is five times that of the number of people in the Gaelic speaking community in Scotland. It has been argued this is due to broadcasting rights on things like football where you don't really need to be able to understand the language. In reality the numbers are comparabe to other minority languages such as the audience for the Welsh language service from S4C or the Irish language channel TG4.

Here are some of the notable programmes on BBC ALBA since it's launch

A' Gharaids
Air an Rathad
An La

An La  is the nightly news service from BBC ALBA, since 2018 this has also included the weekends. During the week the programme normally airs at 8pm.

Broadford or Bust

Cuide ri Cathy



Ebiheas, which is Gaelic for Elvis, was a comedy drama shown on the channel's launch night on the 19th September 2008. It stared Greg Hemphil as Elvis Presley

Larach anns an Fhasach
Peter Manuel - Deireadh an Ulic?

Peter Manuel - Deireadh an Ulic? (in English Peter Manuel - The End of Evil?) was a drama documentary airing on the channel's first night on the 19th September 2008. The programme was made by STV productions and was about the Scottish serial killer who had been convicted of killing seven people and was the third-to-last person to be hanged in Scotland in 1958. 

Seasaidh Lexy

Slighe gu Biadh


BBC ALBA operates from three locations. The main offices, continuity and channel management is based at Stornoway. The channel's news service is based in Inverness and the channel is transmitted from Pacific Quay in Glasgow which is the headquaters of BBC Scotland

52 Church Street

Tel: 01851 705000
7 Culduthel Road

Tel: 01463 720 720
40 Pacific Quay
G51 1DA

Tel: 0141 422 6000
Main Offices, continuity and channel management News service   Transmission (HQ of BBC Scotland)  



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