If Scotland votes Yes, what would happen to Free TV in the rest of the UK?
What will happen to the free TV in the rest of the UK? Photograph: Shutterstock
The psephologist in me is not that convinced , but with stories around today such as BBC News - Scottish independence: Pound falls after referendum poll it does seems like a time to look at the view of the poll from the England-Wales-Northern Ireland (EWNI) side.
See What could happen to Freeview if Scotland voted to become independent? and An Independent Scot would still be able to watch the BBC on satellite, surely? for the Scottish perspective.
The view from London
On the whole I am disinterested in the outcome (as I live in London
), of course, but I think it worth wondering what could happen.
Of course the vote is just the start of a process. There is pre-nuptial agreement in this situation. If there was a Yes vote in 10 days, then a negotiation would start.
Weighty matters (nuclear submarines, membership of NATO and the EU) will take precedence, but at some point the subject of the divorcing nations TV and radio will be addressed.
As you probably well know, the Scottish legal system is separate to that in England and Wales. If laws or contracts have been drawn up it is quite likely that they will be able to continue in the two jurisdictions as if nothing had happened.
The most obvious question is about the Channel
3 "Border" licence, which is held by ITV
plc. The Scotland part of this covers 100,000 homes (0.4% of the UK total) and it seems likely that ITV might have to make arrangements to sell this to STV
The six Freeview
multiplexes are allocated to their owners in a number of ways. It is possible that the new Scottish government will just allow the current system to continue, so Arqiva will continue to largely own and wholly operate the system (ITV plc will continue to licence the "SDN" multiplex
There is a good question about the "Digital
3 and 4 Ltd" arrangements in Scotland: this is a good example of where an decision about splitting an existing contract with legal commitments (to Arqiva) and service obligations but little in the way of liquid assets might get bogged down.
Channels 4 and 5
However, in the extreme example that Scotland chooses to close down Freeview (to use for 4G broadband or a pay TV service) the broadcasters that operate on "gifted" bandwidth and rely on the advertising income they make would see a 8.3% cut in their funding. This would be Channel 4
and Channel 5
in particular. It could be possible that in the longer term that selling advertising space into what is a "foreign country" might carry additional costs and risks.
As ITV plc does not broadcast Channel 3 in Scotland, but resells the programmes it makes to STV, this relationship will be the least likely to change for an English company.
As for the BBC, it is possible that the discussions after a Yes vote would allow the BBC to continue as it is, with the people of Scotland paying the TV Licence
and the revenue from this being handed over to a single body for the Scotland and EWNI.
This seems an unlikely outcome. From a EWNI perspective if the BBC in Scotland is legally replaced by another broadcaster, and the licence fee handed over to that, the question is how services
would be changed.
One important question would be as to the nature of the transfer of BBC assets to the Scottish State Broadcaster (SSB
). It could be that the assets are "ceased" and kept (given that some claim the Scottish Government will not accept any UK dept).
£161m a year?
It seems likely that the EWNI-BBC would have 8.3% (£332m) chopped from the budget. However, this would be tempered against the savings made from not having to provide an extensive terrestrial transmitter network
in Scotland, not having to collect the fee in Scotland (£9m).
The SSB might demand 8.3% of BBC Worldwide, which would cost EWNI-BBC another £13m a year in lost income.
However, even if BBC Scotland
(plus BBC Alba
, the Scottish radio stations) costs as much as £175m, this would leave a shortfall in the BBC budget of £161m.
However the question would then be: can the BBC charge SSB at least £161m a year to provide their channels
? Would the SBS want the BBC News
channel, or just the pick
of shows like Strictly and Doctor Who?
If SSB pays only £50m for very selected BBC content, the £111m hole in the BBC budget would all of English local radio, 90% of Radio 4, all of Radios 1 AND 3, or putting up the TV Licence by £5.
A Scottish Yes could mean a fiver more every year on the TV Licence for the rest of the UK.
Another change that the EWNI-BB would no longer be required to make programmes in Scotland, so this could mean more money spent in other parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
You can see the figures on the TV Licence decriminalization: just how much is it going to cost you?
In conclusion, the vote in 8.3% of the UK in 10 days could inflict changes on the level of the TV Licence, the programmes you are shown on TV, where people are employed to make TV.
It is hard not to disagree that such a change is being made without consulting the 91.7% of voters who will see things changed.
 Scotland: Don't panic yet - the YouGov poll might be a red herring - Mirror Online