UTV must not follow ITV’s merger with BBC regional news in England

Let’s hope that the de facto merger of BBC regional news with ITV’s news offerings doesn’t set a precedent for Northern Ireland. The decision announced last week that BBC and ITV are to co-operate to keep ITV regional news going in England is as big as if the old Soviet Union and the US were to share the Bomb or Rangers and Celtic decided to become a single Firm (well maybe not quite). The unions accuse ailing ITV of bad faith and they may well be right in believing that the new relationship amounts to a virtual BBC takeover. We shall see. A merger isn’t contemplated for UTV News and BBCNI thank goodness. While protests against production cuts have been in vain, UTV is keeping its head above water as a separate company from ITV plc, and the two are sparring over the charges to UTV for ITV productions. No way will the surge in UTV’s radio revenue in the Republic be repeated, so the outlook must be uncertain. Locally, a virtual BBC monopoly would be bad for the BBC and bad for the community. Greater penetration by RTE, TV3 and TG4 while desirable in themselves are no replacement for local product.

Adds. David Cameron has called for the BBC licence fee to be frozen. Shrewd politics.Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley is right that in conditions of growing BBC power by default, the corporation has to do human much better and stop behaving like a nervous politburo. It must cooperate with other cultural institutions far more to promote British ( and Irish)- based culture in these financially strapped times. The wrong way to go about it would be a TV news monopoly in NI.

This BBC-ITV link is big news…. The real significance of the new move is that the BBC is doing something that, on the surface, is against its own corporate interests. Believe me, this is only the start. The advertising recession is brutal. There’s talk of 300 local papers disappearing in the year ahead, while independent television and radio producers slash back programmes and some go to the wall.

  • Scaramoosh

    The only thing that is keeping UTV’s head above water is its radio interests. Under certain scenarios the TV arm could actually be valued at zero.

    “Broadcasting group UTV Media, owner of the Northern Ireland ITV franchise and TalkSport, today reported a fall in full-year pretax profits and said it would cut its final dividend by 76%.
    The company, which reported its full-year results up to 31 December, posted a pretax profit before exceptional items of £20.3m, down 2% from £20.8m last year. Revenue rose 6% to £120.3m. The company cut its final dividend to 2p from 8.3p last year, resulting in a full-year dividend of 5.3p from 13.5p.”

    What I find most interesting about the UTV story, and perhaps it is a sign of changing times, is that persons/companies from the South now own 38% of the company.

    In days of old, what would Paisley have said about that?

    Indeed, there may be some logic to the argument, that if UTV is finally taken over by southern based interests, that is the beginning of a back door de-ulsterisation programme…

  • The MOU only covers ITV’s English and Welsh franchises, so unless someone negotiates separate ones for STV and UTV, it’ll not extend over here. And UTV’s Michael Wilson has already stated his unwillingness to go down that road.

    The devolved “nations” definitely need plurality of news provision, as well as the competition to drive up sharp reporting and keep institutions accountable.

    But it’ll be interesting to see what happens when a big story breaks in an English region, and both BBC and ITV are competing for the same studio and in-door camera position. Coin tossing?

    Brian – it’s more like Rangers and Celtic agreeing to share the same training ground, programme printer and physio.

  • ArchiePurple

    Brian Walker:

    The other day you questioned how much longer the Newsletter would be in existence, now it’s the possible link up between the Beeb and UTV….might I suggest, that you, like other retired hacks, might do your bit and lend your experience to some of these beleagured organisations, instead of punching the keyboard to post to Slugger for no reward!

  • veritas

    if Talksport is anything to go by(owned by UTV)then we`ll soon be seeing one minute news sponsored Dumb R Us…

  • Eddie

    Brian
    To say that UTV’s future is uncertain is quite an under statement. “Shares” magazine for investors said last week that UTVs burden of debt is unsustainable and advised shareholders to head for the exit.

    As for the News Letter, what with the future of Johnson Press in serious doubt, and the threat of a reinvigorated Belfast Telegraph in the mornings from next week, what’s your betting it survives much longer?

    Of course, it could be rescued. The artiste formerly known as John Taylor seems to have deep pockets and has been buying other wee papers – perhaps you and he could link up.