What Are Words Worth?

So, STV has upped the ante in its David versus Goliath battle with ITV that most publicly manifests itself every few days when the ITV network schedule says one thing and the STV one says another.

It’s a battle that has become legal, with ITV plc – which owns most of the ITV network – suing STV Group plc for £38 million (gross) and STV announcing, on Friday, it is countersuing £35 million (also gross).

ITV is claiming STV owes it for programme-making costs, whether STV has chosen to show the programmes or not. STV is claiming ITV owes it for unpaid advertising revenue.

And now, STV is saying that ITV is guilty of an “abuse of video on demand rights and significant prejudicial behaviour”. Strong words, indeed, matching some pretty 'hard ball' stuff from ITV.

STV’s opting-out policy is a strategic move to provide Scottish audiences with Scottish content – though not on a Sunday evening when it’s been a movie that has taken the place of the alternative network fare on offer. 

So, perhaps thank goodness it has become legal. Because the overriding impression is of supposed partners having conducted their business on nods, winks and handshakes. 

In the absence of public displays of unambiguous documentation, one can only assume there is doubt as to who is responsible for paying for the making of a network programme. Either STV has to pay a share or it doesn’t, irrespective of whether or not it chooses to show the end product.

And this latest development – concerning video on demand rights – you’d think would also be the subject of a fairly detailed and clear form of words. But it seems not.

One can only speculate as to what other multi-million pound arrangements have been seemingly left to interpretation, extending all the way to whether ITV has any obligation to sharing any of its network programmes with STV, which – were they to be withdrawn, wholesale, say in a fit of pique – would relegate the current stand-offs to the status of mere skirmish.