Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002
140. I am going to be a little parochial because
I live in Aberdeen and large parts of the area do not receive
your broadcasts so I have missed out on the opportunity to see
what Kevin Lygo called the buckets of smut. I also missed out
on the opportunity to watch a couple of Scotland's World Cup games,
which was even more painful. I see in your submission that your
analogue coverage at the moment is about 82 per cent and I know
from communications which some of my colleagues have had with
you that there is no intention of expanding that, at least so
far as our area is concerned. Can you say why that is?
(Ms Airey) May I just go back a little bit? When we
bid for the licence, we were only ever going to get to 70 per
cent of the population. It was on that basis that the licence
was advertised and won. We are currently at 86 per cent coverage.
That additional coverage has come through being able to upgrade
certain transmitters through being carried on Astra so we get
satellite coverage. Unfortunately there are parts of the country
which we simply cannot get to. We have already optimised use of
spectrum. Channel 5 has been very, very successful in use of spectrum.
We only have 49 transmitters to deliver the coverage we have:
ITV has the best part of 1,000 for the 99 per cent coverage it
has. It is not economically viable for us to do. It is also not
possible in certain areas to be able to get our signal where we
would like it because it would have to be of such high power it
would affect other signals, including, in the south of Englandthough
this does not affect your constituencythe signals which
are reaching northern France. Unfortunately we are limited pretty
much to the current footprint. We are always looking where we
can to upgrade transmitters slightly and boost power but we are
pretty much at the limits of what we can do. However, if you have
a black box or buy into the new PACE box which is about to be
marketed, assuming that the DTT frequencies are sufficiently strong,
some of your constituents might be able to get us that way if
they do not invest in the Sky digital box. I do not know whether
I have left anything out in that answer. You are the expert.
(Mr Murray) That was pretty comprehensive actually.
Currently in those areas the only way you can is through a Sky
box or a pay DTT ITV digital box.
141. You do not sound very certain about that.
(Ms Airey) I do not know the digital plan.
(Mr Murray) It depends on the digital plan for particular
areasand that will be the same for Channel 5 broadly as
for all the free-to-air channelsand the way that the DTT
roll-out is planned in terms of equalisation such that if you
get the box then you should be able to get at least most if not
all of the free-to-air channels.
(Ms Airey) We should like to get as many of your constituents
watching as possible because the Scottish viewers are very heavy
consumers of Channel 5. We adore them.
142. My particular town is also one of the richest
parts of Scotland.
(Ms Airey) We love you even more.
143. Staying on a regional theme, I notice that
you are aiming to originate ten per cent of the UK programmes.
That is quite a high proportion of what you would be producing
as part of the indigenous production. Can you say a little bit
more about how you are approaching that? You do not say a lot
about it. It is almost in passing. Last week we heard from Channel
4 making a major play of their regional diversity and it is obviously
an important aspect for them. Is it important for you?
(Ms Airey) Regional production is not part and parcel
of our licence commitments. We do not actually have to make any
regional commitment at all. We made the decision that we wanted
to do that because at the end of the day our life blood is a thriving
production community, plus the fact that Channel 5 is perceived
as a non-metropolitan station. To be taking the majority of production
from within the M25 is a dissonance with the perception, plus
the fact that there are good production companies who do not work
within London. We have hit the ten per cent figure for the last
two years. We are having a struggle this year because of one show
which has moved from Anglia to London. There are plenty of regional
independents with whom we deal and one of our controllers does
have a specific charge to commission and try to seek out new talent
in the regions.
(Mr Lygo) We are not forced to do regional production
but with all our backgrounds we know that if we do not encourage
production from the regions, we will start to lose some of our
richness. Certainly there are wonderful programme makers. It tends
to be grouped in areas where ITV regional production is strong.
In Manchester and Leeds, because of Yorkshire and Granada both
the independent community and those companies themselves have
absolutely first rate programme making. The important thing for
us is to encourage. We do buy a lot from small independents throughout
the country to encourage this because you get a different take
on things from people who do not live in Soho.
144. Has it spread to Scotland yet?
(Mr Lygo) It certainly has spread to Scotland.
145. Staying in Scotland, may I ask about news
coverage? There has been a shift in news coverage with the creation
of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the
London Government, that is clear. Is there a policy within your
news coverage to make sure that politics throughout the United
Kingdom is covered?
(Mr Lygo) Yes; yes, of course. The news is one of
the great things about Channel 5. There is more news, three half-hour
bulletins a day. We do more news than Channel 4 does and updates
in prime time every hour, which no other broadcaster does, are
terribly important. What we are working on and what Channel 5
has been very successful with from launch is to try to offer a
different sort of service than the main broadcasters. The middle-aged
competent man in a suit with his patrician manner on the BBC is
marvellous but it is one way of doing it. I can never quite work
out when ITV News at Ten is on because it does not seem to be
at ten that often. Our news is regular, it was somewhat transformed
when it launched just by sticking Kirsty in front of the desk
rather than behind it. What that was a symbol of was an informality,
a sense of not talking down, of not somehow passing on tablets.
Our news is essentially geared to be an individual experience,
it is about people and how it affects you. Certainly when we cover
news items which are not Ministers at some European Summit stepping
out of a car, but are about health issues or education, then you
do see much more interest, phones ring, the ratings go up and
that is a healthy thing. That is really where we continue.
(Ms Airey) We do illustrate all of our stories as
often as possible from outside London. That probably answers your
question. We are very cognizant of where the audiences offer us
particularly high ratings and that is in Scotland and actually
in the North, North-East, North-West Scotland. We try to illustrate
stories wherever we can from the regions.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
I think the relative paucity of questions is due to the fact that
the Committee is not troubled by what you are doing, so far as
I can gather. I am no nearer understanding precisely what your
strategy is or what your viewer profile is but your strategy is
clearly working for your viewer profile. Thank you very much indeed.