Ofcom chair acknowledges stv’s public service cost challenge

THE chair of the broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, has acknowledged that stv might have difficulties fulfilling its obligations providing news and other programmes which have a public service value, but don’t necessarily make financial sense.

David Currie was speaking following Ofcom’s publication of responses to its latest review of public service broadcasting.

The argument goes that public service broadcasting costs a lot to make but doesn’t necessarily attract many viewers, and hence much advertising revenue.

That a channel such as stv has to fulfil any public service broadcasting requirements at all is because it has access to those people whose TV sets are only analogue, not digital, and that it features high up the programme menu on digital TVs.

But digital channels don’t have a PSB requirement to fulfil like stv’s of 5.5 hours per week dedicated to news and four hours to non-news (because stv runs Scotland Today and North Tonight, it is more like 11 hours of news per week).

Most regional ITV channels don’t have the same hours to fill: 5.5 news and 1.5 non-news. Next year, stv will be allowed to reduce its non-news obligation to three hours per week, while, for the English regions, it will 30 minutes.

stv’s current licence ends in 2014, by which time there will be no analogue signal, only digital.

Hence, Currie’s remark: “ITV may overstate the costs and understate the benefits. What is beyond doubt is that the value of PSB benefits drops rapidly, and the point at which the costs of the public service obligations in a channel three licence exceed the benefits will occur well before 2014; earlier in some C3 franchises, notably Scotland.”

A stv spokesperson told allmediascotland: “It is clear that in a digital age the key commercial broadcasters cannot sustain the current level of PSB. However, stv is committed to being a public service broadcaster to ensure we have a vibrant and dynamic television industry in Scotland, and that we find a model that will facilitate PSB continuing on a commercial basis for the benefit of viewers in Scotland.”