Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009

STV eyes model for ITV 'divorce'

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STV has dropped several network dramas from its schedule

STV has called for radical reform in the way the ITV network is run as the row over its decision to drop shows like The Bill and Doc Martin continues.

The company wants a new commercial deal with ITV which would allow it to buy only the programmes it wants, leaving it completely free to drop the rest.

ITV, which runs the ITV1 channel in England, Wales and the Borders, is suing STV for a headline total of £38m.

ITV claims STV still has to pay for programmes it has dropped.

Retuning

STV has strongly denied this and said it believes it has the right to opt out and not pay.

The broadcaster intends to countersue for £35m over money which it claims it is owed by the larger company. It is expected to lodge legal papers shortly.

STV chief executive Rob Woodward told the industry magazine Broadcast he wanted to see a complete overhaul of the current networking arrangements to bring STV in line with the Dublin-based channel TV3, which enjoys a "straightforward commercial relationship" with ITV.

Rob Woodward
Rob Woodward wants to follow the example of Dublin based TV3

TV3 is not part of the ITV network but shows some of the channel's most popular programmes on purely commercial terms.

Mr Woodward said: "TV3 buys access to the ITV1 schedule, it can schedule as it wants, it can weave in its own programming or acquired programming - that to me looks like a productive template.

"We need to have a more straightforward way of working which, at the same time, would address some of the tensions within the current structure."

Meanwhile, an analysis of recent viewing figures cast doubt on claims that the majority of Scots are missing out because of STV's scheduling decisions.

The analysis suggested many fans of programmes like The Bill and Doc Martin are simply bypassing STV and tuning in to their favourite shows by switching to ITV1 London.

Viewers with satellite and cable tv - around 60% of Scots - can choose between STV and ITV1 London. However, people with Freeview and the small minority of viewers who still rely on analogue television cannot.

'Significant sums'

The research suggested that more than 100,000 people in the STV region are watching Doc Martin - which stars Martin Clunes - on ITV1 London. The comedy Benidorm and The Bill seemed to have proved even more popular with more than 130,000 viewers each.

These figures suggest that viewers have learnt for themselves that they can choose between STV and ITV1 as they would choose between any other competing channels.

However, industry experts stressed that the fact some people are watching ITV1 London instead of STV is not in itself bad news for STV - what really matters is the number of people watching STV, which social and economic groups they come from and the cost of STV's own programmes.

Inspector Smith, played by Alex Walkinshaw
The Bill is one of ITV's best rated programmes

The programmes which STV has screened in place of the network dramas have had mixed results in ratings terms: some won STV a bigger audience than it might otherwise have expected, some got roughly the same number of viewers and some have flopped.

An ITV spokesman said: "We would warmly welcome a relationship with STV that mirrors our relationship with TV3 in Ireland. The existing networking arrangements simply weren't designed for a network 92% owned by one company.

"Either STV is in the ITV Network, benefitting from - in effect - a 'volume discount' for taking the schedule, or it isn't part of the ITV Network and therefore pays a market rate for those programmes it wants to carry - just like TV3.

"Quite apart from it having no legal basis, STV's opt-out strategy attempts to get the full benefits of being a member of the Network without carrying its fair share of the financial obligations. The TV3 model is a sensible suggestion from STV.

The spokesman added: "ITV will continue to seek payment for the significant sums owing from STV."



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