ITV public service cuts welcomed

LONDON - Agencies have welcomed Ofcom proposals to allow ITV to significantly cut its public service programming obligations, although they insist the broadcaster should reinvest the tens of millions of pounds saved back into improving its programming line-up.

As part of its second public service broadcasting review, the media regulator proposed that ITV can drop some regional news bulletins, reduce non-news regional programming by half and cut back on its current affairs shows.

Specifically, the minimum quota for ITV's regional non-news programmes could be cut from 30 minutes to 15 minutes on average per week and the volume of its current affairs programmes in off-peak time should fall by 40 minutes per week.

Richard Oliver, managing partner at Universal McCann, said ITV should be able to cut its PSB programming "without losing audience", but he added that agencies want the company to "come up with new types of shows that are economically viable and also helps them stay connected with their local viewers. That's what will matter in the long run to advertisers and the brand."

Ofcom estimates that ITV will save £40m annually through its reduced PSB obligations.

Chris Locke, trading director, VivaKi UK, wants to see ITV spend the freed-up funds on big entertainment shows to enhance its primetime performance. He explained: "Localness is overrated and consumers can get it from lots of different places now, such as local newspapers and online. ITV should instead concentrate on spending the spare money on programmes that will get it bigger audience numbers."

However, there is some doubt whether the money ITV saves from its reduced PSB obligations will make a difference to its problem programming areas. A senior TV executive said: "ITV's total programming spend is £1bn so a saving of £40m won't fix its major issues - such as its 9pm slot and Sunday night."

ITV declined to comment.

- £235m: Amount potentially needed by 2012 to provide PSB programming on non-BBC channels at current levels

- 9: ITV wants to cut its regional news delivery in England and the Scottish Borders from 17 programmes to nine

- £40m: Financial savings ITV hopes to make from the proposed cuts to its PSB programming

WHAT THEY SAY ...

- Ian McCulloch, consultant and former commercial director, ITV

Commercially, so long as ITV doesn't lose the ability to transmit regional ads, there will be no issue with the proposed changes. It's all about what will replace the regional shows, and considering ITV often strips the ad minuteage during these shows and puts more minuteage on later, there should be no massive change for the advertiser. So the effect of the proposals? Neutral for the advertiser and positive for ITV's shareholders, with savings of £40m predicted.

- Martin Stott, head of regulatory affairs, Five

In a sense our position remains the same - we are committed to being a PSB and want to carry on doing so. We still don't know what funding model the Government will go for. This is an important process and we will be talking to Ofcom and the Government about our future role over the next few months.

- Rhys McLachlan, head of broadcast implementation, MediaCom

The regulator has been light-handed with both ITV and Channel 4. What we haven't seen is any kind of accountability and detailed plans of what both broadcasters will do with the extra funds. We need to know whether they will treat these lifelines with respect and how the benefits will be passed on to the viewer.

- Chris Hayward, head of investment, ZenithOptimedia

The relaxation towards ITV makes common sense.

These (PSB) services are expensive and don't produce big revenues and, with pressure on budget continuing over the next 12 months, ITV understandably wants to protect its business.

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