Ofcom chief urges quick decision on how to fund stv’s PSB obligations

A DECISION on whether or not to publicly fund stv to fulfill its ‘public service broadcasting’ (PSB) commitments needs to start being made by six months’ time, a senior manager at broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, has warned.

At a public meeting about PSB, Stewart Purvis – partner, Content and Standards, at Ofcom – claimed that the benefits of stv holding the channel three licences for central and north Scotland were outweighed by the costs of fulfilling the PSB obligations that come with the licences – such as providing news.

The meeeting, hosted by Ofcom, was held yesterday in Edinburgh, and featured, among others, Blair Jenkins – the chair of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission – and Eileen Gallagher, chief executive of Shed Productions.

Last month, Ofcom recommended – ahead of a final decision next year and consultation taking place now, until December 4 – that stv’s non-news PSB (at each of its two stations) should be cut to 90 minutes per week, from four hours. And that its daytime news bulletins can be cut.

Purvis told allmediascotland that, because it could take at least a year, on government cash being actually delivered, the process of deciding whether stv’s PSB’s commitments require public funding at all requires to start by six months’ time.

He argues that stv is going to be among the first – if not the first – to struggle to fulfil its PSB obligations, among all the channel three licence holders, because the digital switchover begins in the Scottish Borders first: next year.

And as soon as everyone has access to multi-channel TV and stv becomes just one channel among hundreds (as opposed to one channel among a handful for those still watching analogue TV), then its ability to raise advertising revenue will be affected, and therefore its ability to produce PSB content that is often either expensive – such as news – or not a ratings winner.

Says Purvis: “The moment the analogue signal disappears, will people view television in a different way? And the final digital switchover may herald something a bit dramatic. And because digital switchover happens in Scotland before anywhere else, that’s why I’ve said there is a degree of urgency required.”

Responded Bobby Hain, managing director of Broadcasting at stv: “There’s no doubt that the current model for PSB provision is unsustainable and that funding and flexibility is required if stv is to continue to provide this much valued service.

“stv is wholly committed to providing PSB. News is core to this, and research has shown there is huge appetite for this in Scotland. We have a preference to provide news at the current level and we are pleased that Ofcom acknowledges that additional funding is required for this to happen.

“We are confident that stv has the legacy, strong brand and market positioning to deliver a strong PSB service in a flexible regulatory regime.

“We will continue to engage with Ofcom and are focused on developing ideas for new models for PSB delivery in future.”