BBC Scotland channel doing ‘fantastically well’ despite questions on audiences

The BBC Scotland channel is doing “fantastically well”, bosses at the corporation have insisted, despite coming under fire over viewing figures.

Director Steve Carson told MPs that the channel – which was launched in February 2019 – has “exceeded the expectations and the targets set for it”.

He hailed that as a “tribute to the creative sector in Scotland”, saying it has “significantly upped the volume and, I think, in many cases the quality” of programming.

However, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pressed BBC Scotland bosses on viewing figures for its flagship news programme, The Nine, an hour-long news and current affairs show broadcast from Pacific Quay in Glasgow.

Douglas Ross challenged BBC Scotland bosses on viewing figures for The Nine news programme (Alan Peebles/BBC/PA)
Douglas Ross challenged BBC Scotland bosses on viewing figures for The Nine news programme (Alan Peebles/BBC/PA)

Gary Smith, head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland, said average audience figures for the show are “about 20,000”, adding that this is “very good for a news programme on a digital channel”.

Speaking to MPs on Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, he said: “We have a weekly reach for The Nine of 160,000 people, which we’re very pleased with. That means, across the week, 160,000 people dip in to part of a programme at least once.”

But Mr Ross asked him if the programme has “achieved what you want to achieve”, as Mr Smith revealed that up to 100,000 people watch the Scotland Tonight programme on rival broadcaster STV.

The Tory leader told the BBC Scotland bosses: “You said you’re really happy with the numbers so someone at STV must be delighted by the numbers they get.”

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Mr Ross went on to say that “an awful lot of resources go into The Nine”, asking if this is matched by the audience numbers.

Mr Smith told him: “The Nine itself, I personally think, is a really good programme, that is what I hear from most people who do watch, the fact that we have an hour to get properly under the skin of stories and to do interviews around stories to make it more current affairs as news. I think it does a very good job there.”

He added that the programme has allowed the broadcaster to combine experienced staff with new talent, and said it has also allowed the BBC to “take risks with our journalism, to tell stories in different ways and to do different kinds of stories that in a more limited output we weren’t able to do”.

He insisted: “For all these reasons I would say it was a success.”