The BBC’s new £32m Scottish television channel is in turmoil with disastrous ratings and behind-the-scenes tensions threatening to alienate some of the broadcaster’s ‘best talent’.
Official data shows that viewing figures for BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme, The Nine, fell to a low of 4,000 last month.
Ratings for the show are regarded as a benchmark of the channel’s overall health and the slump is said to have affected staff. Alex Salmond’s chat show on RT, the Kremlin-backed network, is thought to attract more viewers.
BBC Scotland went on air in February, offering nightly schedules of Scottish-only programming.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said the BBC may have to pump in millions of pounds of extra public money into the digital channel to reverse its fortunes. The suggestion met with a rebuke from a former BBC executive who blamed political pressure for a channel that “should never have been launched”.
“There’s simply no demand,” said Professor Tim Luckhurst, a former BBC executive who is head of the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent. “The channel was created because of political pressure, which is deeply annoying to many senior BBC figures who realise this is not a practical use of public money. If this was a commercial venture, it would never have been funded or launched.”
According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, The Nine dropped to 4,000 viewers on Tuesday, April 30. Numbers recovered slightly to 7,000 the following day but were a long way from the 63,000 who watched the debut transmission in February.
Over on BBC 1, Reporting Scotland routinely attracts upwards of 300,000. Audience figures for Salmond’s show were reported at 7,000 in September.
A BBC spokesman said the new channel had exceeded expectations by reaching a quarter of Scotland’s population each week. “We said from the outset that The Nine is in a highly competitive slot and regularly is up against either dramas or live sport, so its audiences do fluctuate.”