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Subtitled dramas: Gaelic could have the last word

Scotland's Gaelic channel is looking to develop Gaelic's answer to The Killing as part of its plans to expand its audience.

INSPIRATION: The Killing.
INSPIRATION: The Killing.

Encouraged by the viewing figures gained by subtitled dramas such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, which all attracted one million viewers, BBC Alba believes a compelling multi-part Gaelic drama set in Scotland could be as popular with audiences as Danish crime and politics programmes.

BBC Alba, run by MG Alba in collaboration with BBC Scotland, realises that with its budget of £14 million a year it will have to rely on co-production deals to make a hit programme possible.

The channel is looking for dramatic ideas to launch, in the medium to long term, as it feels it is now ready to "grow into an adult" after five years of operation.

The station says it averages around 500,000 viewers a week, with higher numbers when popular football matches are broadcast, such as the Brechin v Rangers game last July.

Last year, the channel's content also recorded 3.4 million viewings on BBC iPlayer, up from two million the year before.

The breakdown of figures from the BBC's iPlayer show the top programmes viewed include football matches but also Peppa Pig in Gaelic, the Queen's Jubilee message and BBC Alba's car show Air An Rathad.

The channel is also looking at developing its children's programming.

It will be recording a Gaelic version of the major new CBeebies show, Katie Morag, produced by the Scottish producers Move On Up.

Donald Campbell, MG Alba's chief executive, said: "The channel is now developing from childhood to adulthood, it feels definitely in that phase and part of that is about us pushing for new co-productions, new collaborations, sharing ideas across platforms and channels a bit more.

"What I heard from a lot of people when the channel started was: 'A Gaelic programme is so particular no-one else will invest in it', but I think with 500,000 people watching it a week, and only 60,000 to 90,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, that proposition has been disproved.

"If you do the right kind of programme, people will watch.

"And I think Borgen and The Killing and the success of Nordic noir has changed that dynamic in the UK.

"People have been talking about: 'did you watch The Killing last night?' not the subtitles and people's perspectives have changed and that's what we really want to explore – can we be more creative about what we are doing for BBC Alba without taking away the channel's character?"

He added: "I think the big difference for BBC Alba is that it was thought to be in a niche, a Gaelic channel for Gaelic speakers.

"I think it has surprised a lot of people. I think with things like The Killing and Lilyhammer happening at the same time as us, we think the projects we commission, with a bit of creativity, can over the next three to four years bring in value from broadcasters, companies and producers."

BBC Alba's funding is made up of with £4m from the BBC of which half is for news programming and half for current affairs programming, and the remaining £10m from MG Alba, otherwise known as the Gaelic Media Service.

Drama is more expensive than producing news, however, and BBC Alba would need to fund a major drama with other broadcasters or companies.

The channel would like to increase the amount of original programming from 1.6 hours a day to three hours a day.

Mr Campbell added: "The drama is predicated on the right script and talent, which is key, being in place, and being strong enough to pull in interest from other companies.

"The way we have gone about it before is that we have made a case for drama to be part of the schedule.

"Now we are going about it in a slightly different way in that we want the ideas to develop, for the script to come forward. We are working on different options now.

"Shows such as The Killing took a while to come together. You need a really good script, a good cast, and you begin to pull in the funding."

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