Ofcom is recommending the renewal of the public service licences held by ITV, STV and Channel 5. The culture secretary Nadine Dorris now has to decide whether to do this.
In theory she could order a new “franchise round” to open up the licences to other bidders but this seems highly implausible. However she could ask for conditions to be attached to the renewal of licences.
There is no immediate rush for a decision from the culture secretary.
The public service licences cover the right to broadcast on EPG slots 3/103 and 5/105. The slots are gifted and guaranteed in return for a range of specific programme obligations.
The idea of a modern franchise round is a non-starter, of course. Franchises were a way of awarding the limited spectrum which existed in analogue days.
But what sort of things might be discussed in licence renewal?
ITV has honoured all the commitments it made when the licences were last renewed in 2013. This saw the return of a more regionalised news service and the return of the Border Scotland region.
Things which could potentially be discussed in licence renewal this time could include;
- The minimum amount of regional news and the number of regions and sub-regions.
- The minimum volume of non-news “regional“ programmes in Wales, Northern Ireland, the Border Scotland area and the STV region.
Minimums are just that – floors. There is no reason why a broadcaster cannot exceed these minimum quotas if it wants to.
There may be no immediate case to cut the actual volume of local output but would it be better to reduce the legally required amount now in return for informal undertakings not to axe any output now?
This could prevent requests for changes in the future if market conditions change. After 2001 ITV made regular requests to the ITC then Ofcom to cut programming obligations.
The other question is whether programmes on spin-off channels like ITV 2 and 5Select or online content should count towards PSB obligations.
The spin-off channels may be better placed to reach some groups of the audience but are not in guaranteed EPG slots.
As Pres fans, we might have found franchise rounds exciting when we were children as they promised new idents.
In fact they were hugely disruptive to staff. Little good if any came from the 1991 round. The 1980 round though dealt with the genuine concerns surrounding ATV’s commitment to the Midlands and there was optimism over what TVS and TSW could bring. Even so, it was not an easy time for any incumbent company.
The days of franchise rounds are, thankfully, gone but is this time to get the public engaged in a debate on whether ITV, STV and Channel 5 could do certain things better or differently?
PICTURED: ITV/STV/Channel 5 logos. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc/STV Group/Channel 5 Broadcasting Ltd.