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BBC Scotland channel provisionally approved by Ofcom

Ofcom has given its provisional approval for the new BBC Scotland TV channel, but wants the public to have its say in a consultation.

The regulator, which since the abolition of the BBC Trust has the power to decide on changes to the BBC's TV and radio services, said that it thought the new service proposed by the BBC will deliver public value for audiences. It added that 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, it warned the personal value audiences derive from it will depend on the BBC’s ability to deliver a mix of high quality content.

Ofcom also said it thought the BBC’s proposal is unlikely to have a substantial crowding out effect on competition: commenting it predicated the new channel "could achieve a greater share of viewing in Scotland than anticipated by the BBC, broadly double BBC Four’s current Scottish audience. 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."

Meanwhile, the BBC was put on notice by Ofcom to ensure that it examined potentially negative effects on public value, such as its decision to end Scotland-only programming on BBC Two, much more explicitly. The closure of the BBC Two Scotland variant had escaped much press coverage and was buried deep in the paperwork to Ofcom.

Ofcom said it also expected the BBC to publish its market impact assessments and engage more openly.

BBC Scotland TV is to be made available across all major digital TV platforms in Scotland, and as first reported by a516digital last month, this will include an HD simulcast, following a U-turn from its original plans to launch in standard definition only.

The Ofcom consultation that will feed through to the regulator's final verdict is open until 18th May 2018.

The final decision is due in July.

Responding to Ofcom's announcment, Steve Carson, multi-platform commissioning head at BBC Scotland, said it was "another positive step which will enable the broadcaster to step up its plans."

He said:
"This is very welcome news as we continue to develop our proposals. 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."