Clock Ticking Down

It's almost high noon and the clock is ticking down on submitting bids to run a publicly-funded news programme on Channel 3 in Scotland, from the middle of next year.

Recognising that, UK-wide, the current operators of local news on Channel 3 are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain their output, the Westminster government is inviting bids by news consortia to run the service in three pilot areas of the country – Scotland, Wales and the north east of England – with public cash the reward for the winner. 

That the clock is ticking down is because the deadline for, essentially, a note of interest to run the Scotland pilot is later today.

Why the likes of STV is finding it ever harder to run its news services in central and the north of Scotland (the south of Scotland currently being served by the Tyne Tees TV station, operating from near Newcastle) is in large part due to the recent proliferation of TV channels. Without having to honour any public service broadcasting obligations – in a way that STV has to, with its news and other provisions – these channels are luring advertising revenue away.

So STV needs financial help if it is to continue to provide local news on Channel 3. But since it's public cash that is at stake, it has to bid for it, in competition with any other interested parties.

One such interested party might be newspaper group, Trinity Mirror, in association with Glasgow-based Macmillan Media, which currently provides the Scottish news opt-outs on morning TV programme, GMTV.

Yesterday, it said it was hoping to run a south of Scotland-only news service on TV – even though there isn't, technically, a south of Scotland pilot up for grabs. Macmillan would provide the broadcast expertise, to complement Trinity's news experience: nationally, with the likes of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, and locally, via its S&UN newspapers division which includes, for instance, the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.

The question allmediascotland put to Trinity yesterday was whether it also intended to bid for the Scotland pilot, to which it received a non-committal answer.

It may now be more committed given STV's announcement earlier this morning. STV might not currently provide a news service for the south of Scotland, but by teaming up with ITN and Bauer Media, maybe that gap in the jigsaw has suddenly been filled.

Meanwhile, keeping conspicuously quiet is the trio of newspaper publishers, Newsquest (The Herald), Johnston Press (The Scotsman) and DC Thomson (Press and Journal). It publicly declared an interest in running the Scotland news pilot a long while back, but has since kept its own counsel, except to say that it disagrees with the concept of public cash being used to fund TV news and therefore potentially subsidising a news rival, especially online. 

It is not known whether a TV broadcaster has been recruited to its cause.

But that's the thing about possible bids and alliances being formed: it's all done under a relative cloak of secrecy and having to keep options open.

These next few hours could prove interesting.

And no doubt the exercise has, for every senior manager involved, yielded useful contacts and ways of thinking.

Which every contestant should clasp dear to their heart, because disappointment could be the outcome of this Independently-Financed News Consortia (IFNC) process for each and every one of them.

Why? Because the Tories have registered their opposition to the plan and were they to win the General Election……

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