by Rona Mackay
The Scottish Government has proposed the so-called Scottish Digital Network as a possible provider of local TV services in Scotland.
The Scottish Digital Network was the main recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, set up by First Minister, Alex Salmond, and which submitted its conclusions two-and-a-half years ago. More recently, an expert panel commissioned by the Scottish Government’s Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop recommended that the best way of funding such a service was from the TV licence fee.
The SDN would be a digital TV channel dedicated to Scottish content, with a substantial online presence also.
And in response to a consultation being conducted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the SDN has been put forward by the Scottish Government as a possible provider of local TV in Scotland.
The DCMS invitation is with a view to setting up a digital channel that is operating UK-wide with local affiliates attached to it and with the facility to opt out to broadcast their own content.
Some 20 notes of interest have been received by prospective operators of the UK-wide channel, one of which — Channel 6 — last week received backing from, among others, STV.
There have been approaches from prospective operators of services exclusive to the devolved nations, Scotland being one.
The Scottish Government’s submission carries an indicative business plan, not dissimilar to that mapped out by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and its chair, Blair Jenkins, in September 2008. Back then, as now, it is estimated the SDN would require an annual budget of £75 million.
A Government spokesperson said: “A formal expression of interest has been submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in response to its Local Media Action Plan consultation.
“Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop, told the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee the bid presses the case for the network in Scotland to be publicly funded, as recommended by the Scottish Digital Network Panel.
“In the Scottish Government’s response to the Scottish Digital Network Panel’s report — also announced today — the Minister agreed that the best possible source of funding for a digital network is the television licence fee.”
The DCMS is still consulting as to how best to deliver local TV, with the notes of interest being used to come up with a mechanism.
Fiona Hyslop said: “We firmly believe that a publicly-funded Scottish Digital Network is the best way to sustain and support local television services in Scotland. It would bring benefits to viewers in all parts of Scotland — not just the largest centres of population which are commercially viable — as well as meeting the need for choice in public service broadcasting in Scotland.
“I believe that the case for a digital network is sufficiently strong, and has such support across the political spectrum in Scotland, that the establishment of a network will happen. The main uncertainty relates to when a network will be established, rather than if it will be established.
“The report’s recommendations in relation to funding a digital network can only be implemented with the co-operation and agreement of the UK Government. My key priority, therefore, since receiving the Panel’s report, has been to make the case for funding a Scottish Digital Network to the UK Government, in order to try to secure prompt agreement from UK Ministers about possible funding for a network
“We recognise that the UK Government’s view is that the core network for local television services should largely be commercially funded. However, we do not think that such a solution is likely to offer significant public service benefits for viewers in Scotland. It is now for the UK Government to work with us to establish a digital network for Scotland, funded from the licence fee as S4C will be from 2013-14, or from the sale of spectrum once digital television switchover has been completed, which will then accommodate more localised broadcasting.”