MSPs back stv survival bid

THE owners of stv secured the backing yesterday of MSPs in what could ultimately prove a battle for its very survival.

As reported in yesterday’s Spike, stv group plc is urging broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, to reject any notion there should be a single channel 3 licence covering the whole of the UK.

While most of the ITV network is owned by ITV plc, stv group plc, UTV and Channel TV are not. And stv say there are good reasons why they should remain independent when its licence comes up for grabs in 2014.

Ofcom has indicated that a single Channel 3 licence is an option for the future, and ITV plc has indicated it supports the idea.

Chief executive, Rob Woodward, told “the stakes are very high”, adding: “We absolutely refute that the needs of Scotland would be best served by a single, branded ITV.”

Yesterday was the last day for submissions to Ofcom as part of its review of public service broadcasting.

The Parliament was debating a motion from Tory MSP, Ted Brocklebank. It read: “That the Parliament notes that 4 December 2008 is the final date for submissions to Ofcom’s Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Review, Preparing for the Digital Future;

“* recognises that, while broadcasting is reserved, there is a need for a healthy, competitive Scottish-based television programme-making sector outwith the BBC, notwithstanding that organisation’s historic, respected and pivotal role in Scottish broadcasting;

“ recognises the role of stv as the only remaining Scottish-based commercial PSB provider;

“*prefers Ofcom’s enhanced evolution option with a commercial TV channel continuing to provide PSB for Scotland as part of a wider UK network; recognises that stv’s survival as a PSB provider is at risk in the current economic climate, particularly since ITV is now advocating a single UK-wide brand, and calls on Ofcom to explore all options to ensure that there is PSB competition for BBC Scotland in the nation’s rapidly changing broadcasting landscape.”

There were no votes against, though the SNP abstained on a technicality – that the motion did not include reference to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which has just published its recommendations, the key one of which is the setting up of a publicly-funded digital channel dedicated to Scottish content.

The vote was 75 in favour, zero against, and 49 abstentions.

In a statement, Woodward added: “The needs of the nations are different to those of the English regions.

“stv is at the core of a strong creative industry in Scotland. As a successful broadcaster, we reach the homes of around four million people every week, feeding their appetite for great TV programmes; and as a business we know we contribute enormously to the creative economy of Scotland.

“stv has the legacy, strong brand and market positioning to be well placed to continue to deliver creative and accessible PSB in a digital age. The current, network model is not broken; it simply needs modernising for the digital age.”

The broadcaster argued for public funds to pay for news and current affairs and argued for independent status to allow it to make programmes for other broadcasters other than ITV.

Next year, the UK Government will decide the shape of public service broadcasting in the digital age.

Says stv itself: “A single Channel 3 licence could signal the death of stv but a new funding regime and the granting of independent status could usher a new mood of confidence for a company familiar with adverse trading conditions.”

Added Bobby Hain, director of broadcast services and regulatory affairs at stv: “There is no doubt that this is a critical time for stv and for broadcasting in Scotland.

“A solution must be found, and to ensure that viewers are served high-quality programming and a plurality of television services, a strong stv must be at the heart of that solution.”