PSB programming hours down, says Ofcom of BBC Scotland and STV

BBC Scotland broadcast just over nine per cent fewer programme hours last year than it did four years previously, according to figures issued by broadcasting regulators, Ofcom.

Mapping out the extent of ‘public service broadcasting’ (PSB), Ofcom also found that the corresponding figure for STV was a drop of 18 per cent – slightly higher than the near 15 per cent drop in PSB spending, over the same period, across BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five; down from £3 billion in 2004 to £2.6 billion last year.

But behind the BBC Scotland and STV figures are extenuating circumstances, varying trends and grounds for optimism among viewers – with Scots displaying a greater than average appetite across the UK for television news.

For instance, while STV’s 874 hours of news, current affairs and other PSB non-network output last year pales in comparison to its 1,068 hours in 2004, it is much better than the 758 hours of the previous year.

The increase between 2007 and 2008 was partly down to the launch of the news magazine, ‘five thirty show’, which this year was doubled in length, as ‘The Hour’.

Meanwhile, BBC Scotland’s drop in hours from 941 in 2007 to 869 last year owed much to substantial football coverage two years ago (with Scotland’s clubs performing better than they were to).

Two years ago, there was also the Scottish Parliament election, that the channel extensively reported.

A re-classification of the BBC’s Newsnight Scotland as a ‘current affairs’ programme as opposed to a ‘news’ one largely accounts for the current affairs/news split being 58 hours versus 452 hours in 2007 and 194 versus 299 a year later.

Last year, BBC Scotland news reporting captured an audience share of 27 per cent (down from 30 per cent in 2004), while STV’s share was 26 per cent (up from 24 per cent on four years previously).

STV’s ‘news hours’ comprise output from its Aberdeen-based North Tonight bulletin being added to those from its Glasgow-based Scotland Today bulletin, with further additions for short, north-south and east-west opt-outs within these programmes.

Said a STV spokesperson: “We’re pleased that viewers in Scotland continue to value public service broadcasting and we remain committed to fulfilling our PSB commitments going forward.

“STV is taking greater control of its schedule and we are absolutely committed to maintaining a healthy creative industry in Scotland by investing in an increased number of new, high-quality Scottish productions and airing many of these in accessible, peak time slots.

“Our aim is to deliver a diverse and relevant schedule which appeals to a broad range of audiences in Scotland and includes a well-funded regional news service, high-quality network material, strong acquired series and home-grown programming.”

Meanwhile, a BBC Scotland spokesperson said: “It is refreshing to see audiences value news coverage in Scotland so highly – and the fact that more tuned into out coverage on BBC One Scotland than any other channel is very heartening.

“These are challenging times for all broadcasters but the appreciation of our news audiences in particular is very welcome. We try to provide the very best output we can for all audiences, however, and that’s what we are trying to do in 2009.”