STV's Opting-out Policy Again Comes in for Criticism

STV's now relatively long-established policy of opting out of the broadcasting of some UK-wide ITV programmes – often for locally-made fare – has again come in for criticism.

Yesterday's BBC Scotland's Reporting Scotland and Scottish Daily Mail both reported concerns that the Glasgow-based broadcaster was denying its viewers high-quality drama, this time in the shape of Downton Abbey – broadcast to the rest of the UK on Sunday evening, but not on channel 3 in Scotland.

Although ITV London – and therefore ITV programming – can be found by Scots viewers with access to the likes of Sky and Virgin TV – eg Virgin channel 853 – the decision not to transmit Downton Abbey provided an opportunity to bring back into the spotlight a legal stand-off between ITV and STV, stretching well into last year; the former claiming money towards the making of network programmes STV has declined to broadcast, the latter pursuing advertising and new media rights redress.

Reporting Scotland carried an interview with STV’s managing director for broadcasting, Bobby Hain, who pointed out that its viewing figures were steady and there had never been a higher level of Scottish programming featuring on STV.

The Scottish Daily Mail reported: “Downton Abbey, billed as the big-budget ITV production of the autumn, was advertised heavily across the UK in the run-up to the first episode on Sunday”, and claimed the decision by STV to instead show a repeated documentary starring Billy Connolly …”caused fury among television audiences in Scotland”.

The story continued: “But the company, which is embroiled in a £38 million legal battle with ITV over alleged unpaid network programme contributions, defended itself by claiming ‘documentary dramas don’t perform well in Scotland'.

“Now, regional viewing figures for the Sunday evening slot show that Downton Abbey attracted double the average audience share for the programmes shown at the same time in Scotland.

“In the hour-and-half slot, a total of 7.6 million viewers in England saw Downton Abbey – a 29 per cent share of the audience. But north of the border, it was a different story, with Connolly’s ‘A Scot in the Arctic’ attracting 370,000 people – a mere 16 per cent of the share.

“And when the hour-long documentary finished, the comparison was even worse. For the last half-hour of the Downton Abbey slot, STV showed a wildlife programme, Cheetah Kingdom. It had only 189,000 viewers – a paltry ten per cent audience share.”

A Scot in the Arctic was made in 1995.