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Ofcom gives provisional green light to new BBC Scotland channel with expanded news coverage

The UK’s broadcasting regulator has provisionally approved the BBC’s proposal to launch a new TV channel for Scotland, with news and current affairs coverage “at its heart”.

Since the BBC announced its plans in February, Ofcom has been assessing whether the public value offered by a new BBC channel in Scotland would justify any negative effects on “fair and effective” competition.

The new channel would broadcast between midday and midnight every day, with its core content being shown from 7pm, and news coverage “at the heart of” the schedule.

It would broadcast an hour-long news programme at 9pm on weekdays and a shorter bulletin on weekends, covering international, UK and national stories told from a Scottish perspective.

The launch would come with a “strengthened multi-platform newsgathering team”, the BBC has said.

Recruitment is already under way for around 80 journalism-related posts, many of which are in production, with a smaller number in newsgathering.

The channel would have a programme budget of just over £32m a year and is expected to launch this autumn.

Ofcom today said the new service proposed by the BBC will deliver public value for audiences, and that it has the potential to make a “valuable contribution” to the BBC’s public service purposes.

The regulator said: “The BBC’s proposal will broaden the options available to viewers in Scotland, providing a greater Scottish-focus in its news coverage and delivering more content designed to reflect the lives of people in Scotland.

“It should also serve to strengthen production in the nation. However, the personal value audiences derive from it will depend on the BBC’s ability to deliver a mix of high-quality content.”

Steve Carson, multi-platform commissioning head at BBC Scotland, said Ofcom’s decision was “very welcome news”, adding: “Careful planning has been under way over the past year and we can now build on that following today’s announcement.

“We’re planning a channel for modern Scotland, a home for compelling, quality content that appeals to and reflects the diversity of Scottish audiences.

“It will enable viewers in Scotland to see more of their lives, stories and interests on screen as well as offering the chance to watch great content from elsewhere.”

BBC director-general Tony Hall previously said the “brand-new Scotland-edited international news programme” would be at the “heart” of the channel.

Ofcom said that despite the BBC’s plan to increase its news capacity, the wider market effects are “unlikely to be large”.

“A significantly expanded online offering could have a potentially adverse impact on commercial news providers,” it said.

“However, the limited scope of the BBC’s online plans set out in its proposal and the relatively flexible talent pool from which it will recruit mean there is unlikely to be a significant adverse effect on competition.”

The BBC told Ofcom that its additional investment in news programming would allow for more frequent online reporting at weekends and provide more source material for existing online journalists, in the place of funding more of them.

It is therefore “unlikely” that the additional investment in the news programme will drive an increase in the number of stories covered on BBC Online News Scotland.

Ofcom said the BBC’s overall proposal is unlikely to substantially crowd out competition.

BBC Scotland’s predicted Scottish audience share is 1.65 per cent to 3.65 per cent.

“Although this may have some impact on the business decisions made by rivals who lose viewers to the new service, our analysis suggests that there is unlikely to be a step-change in the incentives of broadcasters to innovate or invest in new content for Scotland,” Ofcom said.

Ofcom has now launched a consultation and is welcoming views on its provisional determination until 18 May, before it makes a final decision in July.

Picture: BBC

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