STV in talks to take over BBC3's Freeview slot next year | Media | The Guardian
Scottish broadcaster wants parity on the electronic programme guide with local TV stations in England and Ireland

The chief executive of Scottish broadcaster STV is in discussions with regulators to take over BBC3’s slot on Freeview when the TV channel is shut next year.

STV, which holds the ITV franchise for Scotland, also runs two local TV stations out of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The stations air in channel slot 23 on Freeview, whereas all other local TV stations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland air on the much more highly coveted eighth position on the electronic programme guide.

“We are constrained slightly because of the EPG positioning on Freeview,” said Rob Woodward, the chief executive of STV. “We are working hard with the various parties to ensure when BBC3 comes off air that as a PSB we are offered parity with [local TV stations] in England and Northern Ireland. It would give us quite a boost”.

Channel slot positioning is governed by regulations that stipulate that a public service broadcaster, such as STV, takes precedence when a slot is vacated.

The BBC had planned to launch a BBC1+1 channel in the place of BBC3, however the BBC Trust rejected the proposal. The BBC has not offered an alternative plan.

“It isn’t the BBC’s real estate,” said Woodward. “You can’t simply swap one of your channels for another channel, that was what the [BBC’s] original proposal was. We are the next PSB on the EPG. It would make sense to have all the [local TV stations] across the UK on the same Freeview slot. BBC3 vacating its slot is the catalyst”.

Woodward said that STV was in conversations with Freeview body Digital UK, the department of culture, media and sport, and TV regulator Ofcom.
STV reported a 7% fall in pretax profits to 7.8m in the first half, in part due to running up an 800,000 loss at its two local TV stations.

The Glasgow station, which launched in June last year, is on track to break even by the end of the year.

The Edinburgh station, which launched in January, is projected to break even next year.

Woodward also categorically rejected any notion that STV might look at a tie-up with UTV – which has been speculated in the past – following the emergence of takeover talks between ITV and the Northern Ireland ITV franchise holder.

“No, we are not party to any of those discussions, we have no interest,” he said. “We continue to focus on delivering what we said we would deliver. We are very focussed on Scotland, super serving consumers across Scotland, and our shareholders”.

He also said that STV was not in any talks with ITV.

Separately, STV says that it intends to review its approximately 75m TV ad sales and sponsorship contract with ITV when it expires at the end of next year.

“To ensure that we maximise margins and revenues across the consumer business, it is confirmed that a review of the options to manage airtime and sponsorship sales upon expiry of the current Airtime Sales Agreement with ITV at the end of 2016 has commenced,” said STV. “Under the terms of the current agreement, STV is legally entitled to receive terms similar and will undertake a full review of options on this basis”.

Speaking to city analysts at STV’s half year results presentation, Woodward said that the company would see if it was better served bringing the national TV ad sales business in-house.

Woodward said that STV would also hold talks with other TV sales houses, the most obvious being Channel 4 and Sky.

STV reported a 2% drop in revenues to 53.6m in the first half, as regional TV advertising fell 7% due to a reduction in spend by the Scottish government as a result of political ad bans in the run up to the general election in May.

National TV advertising rose 3%, with digital revenues climbing 30% to 2.8m.

The Rugby World Cup will help to drive regional revenues 15% in the third quarter.

STV Productions also announced a deal with WPP’s Group M Entertainment to co-invest, produce and develop TV shows. The first to be developed is The Dressing Room, a documentary series that “gets inside the changing rooms of sports teams across the country”.