Examination of Witnesses (Questions 393
THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2001
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.
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?
(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.
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.
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.