Threat to Public Service Broadcasting

P.S. Worth adding that the Welsh language ( though partly bilingual) channel S4C has around £90m funding per year for an audience, hit by digital choice, of approximately 511.000 last year.

Fascinating stuff from the Ofcom seminar in Belfast about the future of public service broadcasting in Northern Ireland, posted by Mick. I’ve long since left the inside track on this, so sorry not to be able to offer special insight but

Here are the headlines:

There’s a real threat to the present level of public service broadcasting stemming from ITV’s need to go ever more relentlessly commercial in order to survive in the mass channel digital market. PSB can be defined as news and current affairs, cultural including serious music, religious and ethical, nature and quality children’s programmes – all expensive genres which usually don’t bring in high advertising revenue and have been running at an increasing loss.

The BBC is fiercely resisting pressure from the regulator Ofcom ( note website under repair) to share say, 20% of its licence fee revenue with any other broadcaster.

For UTV, the options are complex and difficult and the future is uncertain.

Northern Ireland is unique as the only UK region which appreciates locally-made programming like UTV Live, Insight and Lesser Spotted Ulster equally with or more than the big network blockbusters like Corrie and Eastenders.

The cut allowed by the regulator Ofcom in PSB hours from 4 to 3 per week from next year by a financially strapped ITV plc and the likelihood of an eventual reduction in PSB hours to virtually zero, is therefore a big blow to the NI audience. Since the old ITV regional federation was replaced by a single ITV plc, omitting UTV, the Belfast broadcaster has been isolated and vulnerable.

What’s the future for UTV? Now being examined is an all-Ireland licence or partnership with RTE which would create a big enough market for ITV to sell its schedule to. It wouldn’t mean the end of UTV and the creation of a single major all-Ireland broadcaster, or a British takeover of the State broadcaster of the Republic. (This is my assurance; such an idea wasn’t even discussed). But fundamental political, regulatory and technological issues are involved. This idea was confirmed by Michael Wilson of UTV and RTE director general Cathal Goan.

A representative from the Belfast community radio Irish language Radio Failte (sorry I didn’t catch his name) described as “ positively insulting” the 500k total funding and the 5k for his station from the Irish language fund. This drew the historic admission from Pat Loughrey, director of BBC nations and regions that there was “a tendency of the BBC to overstep, frankly and there is space for a separate community offer”. There were “lots of ways to support community radio.” The BBC had offered to provide equipment and training as well as news bulletins “a prime asset” free of charge, provided they were clearly labeled.

Overall the debate was cautious and solutions to the problem aired are some way off.

  • ggn

    “and there is space for a separate community offer”.

    Clearly that is the name of the game regarding Irish language broadcasting from here on in.

    TV kept ot a bare mininum on BBC but a separately fund.

    Radio on BBC kept at symbolic levels but hopefully a solution can be found through the expanision of seoarately supported community funding.

    It is regrettable that Irish cannot be given parity with Scottish Gaelic but it is unlikely to ever happen given that there is a unionist majority in Northern Ireland.

    However a separate Irish language broadcasting solutions could well have advantages and seems to me to be the only show in town.

  • It was a fun session – couple of months ago now.

    It was Fergus Ó hÍr from Radio Failte.

    The thought on the day was that if ITV pulled out of its PSB commitments, UTV would look towards working with TV3 – the commercial channel – rather than RTE1/2 – they already have a lot in common (Coronation Street etc).

    And there’s little to stop UTV over-delivering on their local content and upping the hours if they think local programmes will bring more advertising revenue that the network schedule.

    There was a real spat during the Irish language broadcasting session – that eventually made it some news outlets – when DCAL and the senior civil service got a drubbing from TG4’s rep (Iif my memory is right).

    All in all an interesting day.

  • jone
  • dewi

    Brian – [play the ball – edited moderator] What on earth is wrong in providing a Welsh language TV service in Wales for God’s sake? As there are only about half a million Welsh speakers the viewing figures ain’t half bad.

  • 0b101010

    Free money insulting, Raidió Fáilte? I’ll take the hand-out.

  • The figures are astounding and demonstrate the bias of the Northern Ireland Executive, civil service and ministers, against the Irish Language. The problem is no one, apart from Lá Nua, ever called them on it.

    The Welsh language television station gets £90m from the Exchequer plus another £25m worth of programming annually from the BBC.

    Scots Gaelic gets £8m from the Exchequer plus another top in programming from the BBC.

    And the Irish language in NI gets £3m per year from the Exchequer plus £950,000 in programming from the BBC (and that’s only been doubled to this amount earlier this year).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Concubhar,

    There are more Chinese speakers in the UK than there are Irish speakers. Yet, I don’t believe there’s a single Chinese-language only programme on any of the major stations. This isn’t “astounding”, it reflects the reality which is that minority language programming just ain’t a big deal to anyone.

    Does that mean that the Beeb don’t like chinks, or just that there aren’t a sufficient number of people who give a damn ? Nobody would listen to Irish language programmes.

    How much programming is there in Irish in the RoI ? I know that even TG4 has to run a lot of it’s stuff in English due to commercial realities. RTE does a smattering of radio and TV news in Irish, but other than that .. ?

  • ggn

    “Yet, I don’t believe there’s a single Chinese-language only programme on any of the major stations.”

    Then frankly you are misinformed.

    “Nobody would listen to Irish language programmes.”

    A little sprinkle of irrational exageration comrade, well it is Sunday morning I suppose

    “How much programming is there in Irish in the RoI ?”

    Two Raidio stations and a TV station.

    ” I know that even TG4 has to run a lot of it’s stuff in English due to commercial realities”

    Whoops, TG4 is not a commercial station is is a pitifully supported State Channell.

  • Brian Walker

    Dewi,You ask: “What on earth is wrong in providing a Welsh language TV service in Wales for God’s sake? As there are only about half a million Welsh speakers the viewing figures ain’t half bad”.

    Yet again, the bias is in your own head. Citing the Welsh example may give the Irish language supporters something to go for, just as it may enflame the anti-language brigade. I didn’t come down on one side or the other. It was – just interesting.

  • dewi

    “Yet again the bias is in your own head”
    Not at all – your cheap peasants “joke” was offensive and would have been removed if made by a commentor. You don’t just find things “interesting” like all of us don’t – you blog and comment in a fashion designed to score points – nothing wrong with that but not sure that you are into the shared future gig.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Then frankly you are misinformed.

    Well, inform me then.

    Whoops, TG4 is not a commercial station is is a pitifully supported State Channell.

    TG4 run ads in order to fund itself, therefore it must be aware of commercial realities. No viewers = no adverts = no funds. If they ran Irish programmes all day, the ad revenue would be miniscule.

    A little sprinkle of irrational exageration comrade, well it is Sunday morning I suppose

    Few people in the RoI give a shit about Irish, beyond ambiguous opinions that supporting it is a good thing.

    Two Raidio stations and a TV station.

    The TV station mostly broadcasts English language imports, and that’s in spite of a EUR14m state subsidy. I don’t know about the radio stations, but I’m not inclined to take your word on their content.

    Tell you what, why don’t you advocate doubling the TV license fee specifically to fund TG4, then talk to me about how much support you get for it ?

  • ggn

    “Tell you what, why don’t you advocate doubling the TV license fee specifically to fund TG4, then talk to me about how much support you get for it ? ”

    Why dont dont try a little rational?

  • ggn

    “but I’m not inclined to take your word on their content.”

    Hmmm. I wonder what the source of your predjudice is?

    Not much point in talking to you thern Comrade.