Media Lifeline: STV Group

Recent years have seen a renewed focus on TV and a commitment to Scottish programming.

March 2007: Following a period of corporate strife at SMG, Rob Woodward is appointed chief executive. Woodward now attempts to disguise his English accent, picking up pointers by watching Simpsons episodes featuring Groundskeeper Willie.

August 2007: The architect of SMG had been Woodward's predecessor, Andrew Flanagan, whose strategy had been to protect the jewel in the crown (Scottish Television) by building up a portfolio of British media assets, including Virgin Radio, Primesight and Pearl & Dean. Now Woodward begins to unpick Flanagan's work. First off the block, Primesight is sold to GMT Communications Partners for £62 million in August 2007.

June 2008: And Woodward sends an unequivocal signal that the company is retrenching (spiritually and emotionally, as well as structurally) to its parochial roots when, following the completion of the sale of Virgin Radio to The Times of India for £53.2 million, it changes its name to STV Group. The plan is to focus on the television brand and turn it into a cross-platform digital proposition evolving out of the website.

December 2008: Now, in the wake of Ofcom's public-service broadcasting review, there are hints that a form of ethnic cleansing may be on the STV agenda. Bristling at ITV suggestions that Celtic fringe broadcasters are no longer pulling their weight, Woodward calls for greater freedom from the centralised ITV machine. The interests of viewers in all regions of the UK, he suggests, will best be served by local programming made by local people.

September 2009: STV begins bumping ITV network primetime fodder such as The Bill in favour of home-grown fare. The ITV boss, Michael Grade, threatens to sue, claiming that the network programming was, de facto, pre-ordered. Woodward threatens to counter-sue.

Fast forward ... December 2010: With PM David Cameron now preparing to hive off the loss-making North British region to an Edinburgh-based management buyout co-operative, Woodward announces that STV's programming will be 100 per cent locally sourced or ethnically relevant. But he runs into a political storm when it is revealed that the centrepiece of his new strategy is a Simpsons spin-off featuring Groundskeeper Willie.


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