STV's 'Independent Status' Ambition Rejected

A long-held ambition by Glasgow broadcasters, STV – that it be officially classified an independent television production company – has been rejected.

The Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has ruled against making STV an 'indie', which – had been it been approved – would have allowed it to compete for programme commissions under production quotas reserved for indies by broadcasters such as the BBC.

It follows a consultation period which took place between November 9 last year and February 2 this year.

The decision was met with dismay by STV. In a statement, Alan Clements, director of Content at STV, is quoted, as saying: “We are disappointed by the announcement from DCMS and believe this is a missed opportunity that would have been extremely valuable for Scotland's television production sector, creating employment opportunities within the creative industries at no cost to the tax payer.

“We believe that this measure would have been conducive to growth across the whole sector and would have helped establish a sustainable production industry in Scotland.”

Among those who took part in the consultation were Caledonia TV, Channel 4, Comedy Unit, Eyeline Media, Finestripe Productions, IWC Media, Lion Television, Matchlight Limited, broadcasting regulators Ofcom, producers' representative body Pact, Skyline Productions Ltd and Tern TV.

In a statement welcoming the decision, Pact said STV's role as both a broadcaster and a production company would give it an unfair advantage over other other indies.

Tern's David Strachan, who is chair of Pact's Nations and Regions committee, is quoted, saying: “Pact’s staff mounted a highly organised and effective campaign closely supported by Pact member companies in Scotland to demonstrate that this was an unnecessary and potentially prejudicial proposal. This campaign shows to all of its members across the UK how Pact can deploy its resources and influence to support all UK indies.”

Pact was recently at the forefront of a campaign that helped to tighten the definition of what constitutes a 'Scottish production'. All TV programmes transmitted from January that qualify from any quota benefits accruing to 'Scottish' productions must satisfy two out of three criteria: 1. A properly-operating office in Scotland, with senior staff (ie not just an address); 2. 70 per cent of production budget to be spent in Scotland; and 3. 50 per cent of personnel to be based in Scotland.

In a submission to the DCMS, Ofcom broadly welcomed STV's aspirations, saying that independent status would encourage greater access to network commissioning by external producers. Meanwhile, Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Scotland endorsed the broad policy position of ensuring that television production be enhanced in the nations; however, it urged further consideration of the proposal as it noted that a market impact assessment had not specifically considered the effects on other Scottish indies.

Under the headline, 'Crisis for Scottish Broadcasting as Coalition Threatens Future of STV', a Scottish Labour Party press release quotes Shadow Scottish Secretary, Ann McKechin MP, saying: “This decision is exceptionally disappointing and shows that the Coalition Government has little understanding of the measures needed to secure a viable and sustainable broadcasting industry in Scotland.

“There is limited revenue available from advertising and granting this status would mean STV could have more of their programmes commissioned by and broadcast on the BBC and Channel 4. This decision fails to recognise that STV is the only Scottish company with sufficient capacity to take on large scale productions.”