Ofcom publishes statements on programming for the Nations and Regions and ITV Networking Arrangements

09 June 2005

09 June 2005

Ofcom today publishes the conclusions of its consultation on the provision of dedicated programming for the Nations and Regions of the UK. The consultation was part of Ofcom's final Phase 3 report of its statutory Review of Public Service Television Broadcasting (PSB) published on 8 February.

Separately, Ofcom also publishes today its final statement on the ITV Networking Arrangements setting out changes to the networking arrangements between the 15 regional Channel 3 licensees and independent television producers.

Statement on programming for the Nations and Regions

Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to report on the effectiveness of the existing television public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel 4, S4C, five and Teletext - in the delivery of their PSB obligations; and to make recommendations for maintaining and strengthening the quality of PSB for the future. Regional programming is one of the core PSB requirements set out in the Act.

The statement on programming for the Nations and Regions is the final part of Ofcom’s Review of Public Service Television Broadcasting which proposed a new approach to ensure the sustainability of PSB in the the digital age.

Today's proposals are made in the context of: further growth of digital television, now received by 60% of UK households and growing by 50,000 households a week across digital terrestrial, cable and satellite; clarity on the timetable for digital switchover in television as set out in the Government manifesto; the forthcoming announcement on the Channel 3 licence valuation process: and Ofcom's response yesterday to the Government Green Paper on the BBC Royal Charter which emphasised the need for a plurality of PSB providers.

Ofcom’s decisions and recommendations for ITV 1 in the Nations and Regions include:

  • Minimum requirements for regional news and non-news programmes will be standardised at 5.5 hours per week and 4 hours per week respectively, across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Ofcom will introduce a range of measures to support the sustainability of these requirements in the short term, including:
    • exemption of national licensees from paying for network programmes they do not broadcast in order to meet regional licence obligations
    • relaxing guidelines on co-productions and in Scotland, allowing the two licensees, Scottish and Grampian TV, to share all their non-news programmes.
  • To enable greater flexibility in scheduling, Ofcom will allow the National licensees to broadcast regional current affairs in place of some network current affairs
  • Ofcom will allow a further reduction to minimum non-news requirements, when the first UK region achieves digital switchover:
    • 0.5 hours per week in the English regions
    • 3 hours per week in the Nations.
    • However, Ofcom will review the sustainability of this requirement in the Nations at the next PSB Review, in light of the available evidence about the economic viability of non-news programming at that time.

Key recommendations and conclusions on indigenous language broadcasting in the Nations include:

  • Dedicated digital services are the most effective way of meeting the needs of Welsh, Gaelic and Irish language speakers, including exploiting the interactive and on-demand capabilities of digital technology.
  • In Wales, the BBC and S4C should develop a new relationship driven by three core principles: transparency, financial commitment and editorial control. Ofcom welcomes the constructive steps already taken by both broadcasters to develop such a relationship, and supports the BBC’s proposals to establish a new Strategic Partnership between itself and the S4C Authority.
    • Longer term, consideration should be given to alternative funding models for Welsh broadcasting based on contestability.
    • This could include a review of a Welsh Public Service Publisher (PSP) funded partly by a transfer of the portion of licence fee revenues spent by the BBC on Welsh broadcasting.
  • In Scotland, sufficient funding and in-kind support for a Gaelic digital channel could be secured from a number of sources.
    • Ofcom recognises the BBC’s vital role in supporting the Gaelic language over many years and concurs with other stakeholders that it would be the preferred broadcast partner for any new channel.
    • Given the potential for a new digital channel, SMG’s role should begin to switch from that of a main broadcast provider of Gaelic programming to providing support for the new service and establishing an analogue ‘shop window’ for it, alongside the BBC’s continuing analogue contribution.
  • In Northern Ireland, the goal for Irish language broadcasting should be a dedicated digital service broadcasting to all viewers, building on the main Irish language public service channel in the Republic of Ireland, TG4.
    • Consideration needs to be given as to whether - and how - it might be possible for TG4 to continue to be broadcast in Northern Ireland after switchover.
    • Other options should be examined, including an enhanced relationship between the BBC in Northern Ireland and TG4, for example involving greater use of co-productions.

Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said: "Viewers across the UK told us that they value national and regional programming. These changes protect the interests of viewers and set out a sustainable path towards digital switchover."

ITV Networking Arrangements

The ITV Networking Arrangements are a set of arrangements between ITV Network Ltd and the 15 regional Channel 3 licensees. They are designed to co-ordinate the provision of a national television service capable of competing effectively with other broadcasters in the UK.

Under section 293 of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a statutory duty from to carry out a general review of the Networking Arrangements currently in force.

As part of the review process, Ofcom published a consultation on 28 February, 2005 which set out proposals for the future of the ITV Networking Arrangements.

Ofcom has taken account of all submissions provided in response to the consultation. The main conclusions are :

  • The independence of the ITV Network Centre and its equal treatment of independent producers and licensees will be underpinned by applying the 2004 Code of Practice for commissioning to all producers, both in-house and independent.
  • The introduction of a “no play, no pay” clause for national licensees, which will enable them to show their own regional output without paying for the displaced network programme.

The redrafting will be finalised over the course of the next two months and reviewed by Ofcom and the OFT during the summer