Why is BBC Alba not in the least popular TV channels list? | The Daily Dust delivering the best bric a brac, daily news and events with a British flavour

BrokenTV’s look at bad channels misses out BBC Alba, because BBC Alba won‘t join in the rating game.

Ho-ho-ho, I thought, it’s the worst performing TV stations in a Ceefax box! Broken TV have looked at the viewing figures and decided to have some fun. Look, it’s VH-1 with only 6,900 viewers… or Sky Arts 2 on just 9,733.

And then it dawned on me. Where was the great experiment from the BBC? Where was the mythically magnificent BBC Alba? It’s not in the Bottom 30? Really?

After all this is the station that launched to 615,000 viewers and says it’s on 270,000 viewers one year later in September 2010. That would place it as number 32 in the UK, just behind Sky News and slightly ahead of the Disney Channel.


Here’s the catch. BBC Alba isn’t part of the nationally recognised method of counting TV viewers, BARB. Alba say that the distribution of the channel in the North of Scotland, specifically the islands of Scotland, aren’t covered by BARB. So telephone polling has to suffice.

How about some back-up with numbers on the iPlayer to show a relative share or interest? Nope, those numbers aren’t available either. Just the headline number from TNS System 3.

I’ve watched BBC Alba just twice – when my beloved Cowdenbeath FC were in the SPL Division One Promotional Play-off. I screened out the Gaelic commentator, I just wanted to watch the football.

For the record, there are around 50,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, just a fifth of the numbers that are allegedly watching Alba.  Many suspect the majority of Alba’s “strong” viewers are from watching football. But is there a breakdown by time or programme? Nope. It’s just a telephone survey like the political press call up every week.

Unlike every other channel, its impossible to compare BBC Alba to other channels. Iain Hepburn summed it all up very nicely at The Daily Record last month year:

There’s still no way of knowing just how many people actually watch Alba, and more specifically, what they watch. An Alba spokesman confirmed to me they have, through the polling and panels, an idea of what the most popular genres are. But again, there’s no breakdown. It’s just that – genres. The channel can say sport and music are popular, but they can’t – or won’t – be more specific than that.

And that gives rise to a whole host of other questions. Is the channel being shored up by its SPL, rugby and Alba Cup coverage? Is the audience spiking during sports coverage and flat the rest of the time? How much audience retention does it actually enjoy? This is stuff we could find out about any other channel in the country, pretty much – and certainly any other BBC channel. But not Alba.

So while we applaud Broken TV’s look at the worst UK TV channels (and admire the Ceefax graphics), part of me is thinking – these might be bad, but I know that BBC Alba is missing.

And so, I suspect, do the BBC.


  1. Well, I agree that it’s a bit off that they’re not publishing a bit more information, but it’s shocking that BARB are still saying that island dwellers don’t count for the audience survey. (Is the same true of RAJAR?)

    Until they do, BBC Alba will be paying for their own surveys. The point of BARB is to make sure that the surveys are fair and independent. Right now you’ve a choice between fair *or* independent, or something in between.

    It’s BARB’s job, and it’s BARB’s failing. If they sort themselves out, then BBC Alba will have no choice but to take part in the official surveys.

  2. A bit of research doesn’t go amiss.
    Page 14 of the BBC Alba Annual Report

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