Cunningham seeking more original programming to sustain BBC ALBA viewer interest

THE HEAD of one of the partners in Gaelic language TV channel, BBC ALBA, has again spoken of her concerns about maintaining its estimated 500,000 weekly audience – hoping that more original programming can be broadcast to keep its audience tuning in.

Maggie Cunningham, chair of MG ALBA, tells Stephen McGinty, in an interview today in The Scotsman,of her fears that, says McGinty, “viewers will begin to switch off”.

The chair of MG ALBA said something similar when BBC ALBA launched, last month, its Autumn schedule.

McGinty quotes Cunningham, as saying:  “Why will it be hard to hold on to that audience? Well, unless we can get additional funding we cannot sustain a channel on an hour and a half (of original programmes) every night. I don’t think an hour-and-a-half a day is enough to hold an audience over time.

“The last four years, it has started well, it has exceeded expectation but once you start exceeding expectations, the expectation gets greater so the audience will keep wanting more. They have been happy to have what they have, but people will want more. I do think that at an hour-and-a-half over a long period, the channel is unsustainable, basically.

“What we require is more origination (original programming) and maybe different ways of looking at the schedules and more content. How that plays out over the next four years, God knows, but we do need more original content.”

MG ALBA is the Scottish Government-funded body responsible for funding Gaelic programming. It operates BBC ALBA with the BBC. Cunningham is a former joint head of programmes and services at BBC Scotland.

She is further quoted, as saying: “Ideally by 2017, if the BBC charter gets renewed, I would like to see us having three hours of original content per night, double where we are just now. On the same budget or finding clever ways to enhance the budget. There is no getting away from the fact that people want to watch the telly, and the big challenge is ‘How do we get people to stay watching us?’ They do watch us: 500,000 is good. The challenge is ‘How do we continue to deliver?’”

BBC ALBA broadcasts 5pm until midnight, Monday-to-Friday and 4pm until midnight, Saturday and Sunday.

But not all of it is original programming.