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'Digital Switchover is today a done deal in 90% of UK Homes' - Grade
"We were still thinking then of Digital Switchover being a distant event with no date set. 2012 is now just the technical date for turning off the last of the old analogue transmitters." - ITV Chairman Michael Grade.
Michael Grade yesterday gave an important and interesting speech to the Royal Television Society where he
set out the options for ITV-1. The speech is ITV's response to the Ofcom Public Service Broadcasting Review.
He said that the "A new settlement needs to be formulated to sustain the
health of British broadcasting, and the talent and creativity on which it
thrives. It needs to be done urgently, and it needs to be implemented
before the end of 2012."
Adding "There is no alternative but to reconfigure the system. The world of 1991 - when the present ITV licences
were designed - has gone for ever. Back then there were only a
handful of television channels. ITV still had an effective monopoly of
television advertising: Channel 4 was yet to go it alone; Five yet to be
created; Sky's penetration just 5%. And those 1991 licences were
themselves based on a model with even earlier roots: 15 regional
licences designed in 1955 to fit the analoguetransmitter map of that
If we overlook that slight contraction of ITV history (there was only one ITV company in 1955, and only 13 by 1964),
it seems that we have moved passed ITV being a "local television" company in any way. He continues:
"We were still thinking then of DigitalSwitchover being a distant event with no date set. DSO is today a
done deal in 90% of UK households. 2012 is now just the technical
date for turning off the last of the old analogue transmitters. We are already making decisions and commitments
which have consequences beyond 2012. Ofcom is right, we need a
new settlement that works and one that will endure"
He then accepts that the PSB status still provides obligations and benefits:
"If we opt to remain a PSB, we would accept licence obligations for
UK programming and impartial prime time network news. The PSB
licence would in effect be the guarantee that they would be delivered.
In return, we would continue to enjoy the benefits of gifted spectrum
and a prominent EPG position."
He then suggests that ITV could dump the PSB status, but still keep the 45% of multiplex 2 that
is provided to the "Channel 3 Public Service Broadcaster".
"If we choose to operate without PSB status, ITV could buy its existing
DTT spectrum at the market rate - with the proceeds possibly
available to other PSB broadcasters. Alternatively we could simply
buy commercial DTT capacity in the market. ITV would enjoy a
unified brand, with the widest UK coverage through DTT and other
platforms There would be no regulatory prescription - the lightest
touch. Of course without a PSB licence there could be no guarantee of
any particular type or level of programme provision."
Selling ITV a perpetual right to 45% of Multiplex 2 and EPG slot "3" would reduce the amount of public service broadcasting, of course. He then lists these principles.
i. The benefits of a new settlement must at least match the
costs it imposes.
ii. ITV does not itself want any direct public money.
We wish only to operate as a free-standing commercial
business, with less rather than more regulation
iii. Universality: ITV-1 is a popular national service.
Viewer expectations and economics dictate that it must
retain the widest coverage of the UK.
iv. We must have a unified ITV brand. Wherever the
ITV network schedule is available, ITV must be able to
manage the control of the brand. More coherent branding of
the network across the UK would provide a level playing
field to compete against the unified brands of the BBC and
v. Certainty. After years of discussion, consultation and
regulatory adjustments, and with an existing right to licence
renewal, there is no value in the distraction of any protracted
tender process for future licences with modest value. I
honestly do not believe the industry could survive such an
expensive and unnecessary disruption.
vi. We expect to operate in a free market, and on fair
market terms with our competitors, customers and suppliers.
All future regulatory requirements beyond our commitment
to programme investment and news must reflect this.
So, this all means that ITV will dump the regional news service and
just keep ITN to do a 6pm and 10pm news, but without any actual commitment.
It could be that ITV pulls out from all PSB commitments sooner rather than later. Ofcom has already shown that
it is not minded to "pull the plug" when ITV drops PSB commitments (like the fait acomplis of removing children's programmes from ITV1).