Dyke calls for Scottish Parliament funding of proposed new TV channel

THE former director-general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, has said the Scottish Parliament should fund the creation of a digital TV channel dedicated to the making and transmission of Scottish content.

Speaking to an audience of over 200, he said he doubted the funding of the Scottish Digital Network – the main recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission set up three years ago – could be picked by the BBC, citing recent agreement with the Coalition Government that the licence fee be frozen for the next six years and that it should take up, as new, the funding responsibility for, amongst others, radio’s World Service and the Welsh language channel, S4C.

He told delegates: “In the last couple of weeks, the Government and the BBC have struck a six-year deal which makes this form of [licence fee] funding for a Scottish channel highly unlikely. With its licence fee frozen for six years and now having to fund the World Service, S4C, the monitoring service at Caversham and possibly the start-up costs for local television, I can’t see Scotland getting anything from the BBC to fund a new Scottish channel in the foreseeable future.”

It is estimated the annual cost of the SDN would be £75 million, which Dyke felt might be on “a bit on the low side”. The SDN would be both a TV channel and online presence.

He continued: “If you were going to get anything you needed to be in the room – no longer a smoke-filled room, but you get the point – when the Government and the BBC sorted all this out in a weekend a couple of weeks back, but you weren’t invited.

“But this is an opportunity. Maybe it’s time for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish taxpayer to fund a Scottish national channel. The quid pro quo would have to be broadcasting becoming partly-devolved and I am sure that would be welcomed here.

“Now, I know this is a pretty odd time to suggest such a move, given what’s happening to public spending here in Scotland, but if a fully-funded Scottish channel is culturally, creatively and journalistically important – and I buy the argument that it is – then maybe that’s the price to be paid.

“Given the current situation, it’s hard to see how else it can be funded. I believe ideas have their moment. They can be killed by boredom. So, if going to do it, get on with it.”

During questions and answers afterwards, Dyke argued that, as the market fragments more, marketing becomes all the more important. Citing the film industry, he said marketing budgets can often be half of the production one. He argued any Scottish Digital Network would have to argue hard to be high up on the TV remote control; that it would not serve it well to be in the 900s on the so-called EPG.

He added that what made the HBO channel in the USA so successful as a maker of some of the best drama was that it trusted ‘the talent’, to just get on with it, including in the making of The Sopranos. He said that the numerous commissioning layers in the UK tended to mitigate against such courage. By contrast, the income generated by Sky, which eclipses the budget of the BBC, has tended to go ‘straight into footballer’s pockets’.

Watch a video of Dyke’s speech, here.