Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 393 - 399)

THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2001

MR LESLIE HILL, MS KATE STROSS, MR NIGEL WALMSLEY AND MR STUART BUTTERFIELD

  Chairman: Lady and gentlemen, it is as great a pleasure to see you as it was our previous witnesses. Mr Fearn will open the questioning.

Mr Fearn

  393. You welcome the White Paper's endorsement of ITV's role as a provider of public service broadcasting. How confident are you that you can continue as a distinctive public service provider in the digital area?
  (Mr Hill) Do you mean because there are so many more channels available to people?

  394. Yes.
  (Mr Hill) The most important point is the regional one. We still provide, by a long way, the largest and most complete regional service. We have 27 sub-regions around the country. People appreciate both our regional news programmes and our other local regional programmes. As far as we can see into the future, there is a distinct future for those kinds of programmes. In addition, because of history and the way that we operate we still produce a very large number of UK-originated programmes. About 70 per cent of our network programmes are made in this country. These things can continue for a very long time but it depends on how successful we are. If we do not have the funds to make the programmes we cannot do these things, but as far as we can see we are in a position to continue that kind of distinctive service.

  395. I move on to news scheduling. Do you believe that future broadcasting legislation should include specific provisions relating to news scheduling on ITV?
  (Mr Hill) As a public service broadcaster I should like to make clear that occasionally it is believed that we do not want to continue with that remit. We do want to do so in the two areas that I have just mentioned but also in news. We are perfectly content to continue to be a provider of news and to be required to do so. We believe that that is a very important part of our role. As to news, we do not regard it as very sensible that we are unable, because of the current provisions, to possess our own news service. We believe that the 20 per cent restriction on the ownership by individual companies on ITN should be lifted so that if ITV so chooses it can own its own news provider. We believe that would be a very sensible position.

  396. Do any of your colleagues have other ideas on that matter?
  (Mr Walmsley) I believe that that is the general view of all of us.

  397. How will ITV and ITV2 differ in terms of programming policy following analogue switch-off?
  (Mr Walmsley) Analogue switch-off will take place as and when the vast majority of homes can receive the signal in digital, which means that at that stage ITV2 can contemplate an audience as large as the audience availability for ITV1. At that point it should be a service of sufficient substance to be able to provide an increasing amount of investment in original programming. We have long admired the way that the BBC has been able to deploy BBC2 as a complementary service to BBC1, perhaps by generating more innovative shows, trying new ideas and addressing audiences which are large but not quite as large as the audience required for BBC1. We should like to see ITV2 have that capacity. Today, its audience availability is relatively small. Therefore, the amount of financing that can be put behind it is, by definition, limited. However, that is the future ambition.

Chairman

  398. Mr Walmsley, to what extent do you take the view, if at all, that the BBC is now using BBC2 not so much as an area for experimentation but as a dustbin for programmes that it wants to clear off BBC1 in order to have schedules that can compete with Channel 3?
  (Mr Walmsley) I am sure that if you put that question to the BBC it would defend its role with great vigour and, no doubt, greater eloquence than I am able to do. As a viewer, I still see BBC2 playing the distinctive role that I describe. Although I have no brief to act on its behalf, nevertheless I cannot accept that criticism of the BBC.

Mr Faber

  399. I should like to return to the question of analogue switch-off. A few days ago witnesses from ONdigital came before the Committee. Quite rightly, they made a pitch for analogue switch-off because that would suit them. However, Mr Prebble made one comment which we all found quite amusing. When asked whether the ONdigital boxes applied to one television or to a household, he said that it was the former. When he was asked about the other televisions in the house he said that one could always move the box around the house. I hope that he was being facetious. The truth is that now everyone has a second, third and even fourth television set. As people buy new digital television sets they push the old analogue ones elsewhere. In reality, analogue switch-off is a long way away, is it not? People do not buy digital televisions anyway. It will be a very brave government that tells a family that perhaps three out of four televisions in the household are now redundant?
  (Mr Walmsley) You are right that the second and third television will be an issue at the time when we are all near to contemplating the switch-off of the analogue signal. I do not gainsay that point at all. But there is perhaps a danger of becoming preoccupied by the problem of switch-off, whereas the challenge that we face now is one of switch-on. We need much greater effort behind getting the next 50 per cent of homes into the digital environment than we need to deal with the last five or 10 per cent and the second or third television in the home. Once the challenge is down to that it is a manageable one because the scale of the problem is definable and capable of being met. It is much more important to energise the rate at which homes take up at least the first digital-receiving equipment.


 
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