Grade says ITV could ditch public service status

LONDON - ITV boss Michael Grade has warned that the broadcaster will give up its public service status if the benefits of having it do not equal the costs.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society this morning, Grade set out ITV's response to Ofcom's latest thinking on the options for the next public service broadcasting regulatory regime.

Grade stated that ITV would prefer to remain a licensed public service broadcaster "if justified economically", and would accept licence obligations for UK programming and impartial primetime network news.

But he made it clear the current obligations had to be reduced, criticising the current regime for forcing ITV to subsidise its Scottish and Ulster licensees by more than £25m a year by covering more network programming costs than income it receives in return.

He outlined the attractiveness to ITV of abandoning its public service status, which would mean "no guarantee of any particular type or level of programme provision".

By doing so it would be able to present itself as a unified brand, in contrast to the current system of regional licences, by buying digital terrestrial spectrum across the UK.

Grade admitted that neither course would solve the issue of the future of regional news provision, referring to the pressing concerns over the STV licence going negative next year.

He offered the solution that a publicly funded third party could take over news production in the regions with ITV agreeing to broadcast it.

Grade ended his speech by stressing the urgency of the need for a new settlement given the pressures resulting from the economic downturn, and pushing for a resolution that does not involve new legislation being passed.

"I feel rather like a man on a diving board, with the water draining from the pool: eager to go, but being told to wait until the very last minute at which it's still okay to dive.

"Too early is safe: too late is potentially fatal. With a recession gathering pace, the water is flowing out too fast for comfort."

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