UK Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has revealed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport expects to appoint a preferred bidder to provide local news on Channel 3 in Scotland “by next March” with a tendering process beginning shortly.
Speaking in Glasgow, Bradshaw voiced his backing for the consensus within the greater ITV network that increasing costs, and the impending digital switchover, will soon make it financially unviable for licence-holders to continue to provide local news coverage.
The government is expected to publish the contents of the Digital Britain Bill in the coming weeks following a period of consultation on an initial report authored by former broadcasting minister, Lord Carter.
Among its recommendations is the establishment of a number of pilot replacement services – entitled Independently-Financed News Consortia (IFNCs) – which would take over the current Channel 3 slots and “provide a more ambitious cross-media proposition and enhanced localness compared with current commercial television regional news”.
A number of media companies are known to be interested in taking part in the consortia that would bid for the contract, including newspaper groups DC Thomson, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press; broadcast producers, Ten Alps, Bauer Radio and Macmillan Media, and the current Channel 3 licence-holder for most, if not all, of Scotland: STV.
“There is quite a lot of money in the pot of money used for digital switchover that hasn’t been spent,” Bradshaw told stv.tv. “People have managed to switch over for themselves. We want to use that money in Scotland, in Wales and in one English region to run pilots from next year for supporting and ensuring the future of news on the third channel.
“We have to go through a proper tendering process. There has to be an open and fair tendering process. There are a number of organisations that are interested including, I know, STV themselves.”
Bradshaw also confirmed that “there will be a quality threshold” in any tender deliberations, and that the initiative “would help secure the news that people tell us they value: news in Scotland on STV, regional news in England, [that are] really important for our democracy”.
Discussions have already begun among a number of interested parties who might eventually form the consortia who would attempt to win the right to provide the Scottish pilot.
“We are interested in being part of a IFNC,” said Michael Macmillan, managing director of Macmillan Media, who currently produce GMTV’s Scottish bulletins, as well as providing online content to the Daily Record.
“We’re involved with talks with various potential partners,” he confirmed.