Advanced Television

Report highlights ITV’s nations and regions role

May 10, 2021

By Colin Mann

A report from analyst firm Mediatique highlights the important role played by UK commercial PSB ITV in the nations and regions, but also the risk that globalising trends in TV production and distribution pose to the national TV ecology.

Without decisive intervention the future of UK produced, original content made at scale outside of London and the South East, reflecting life in the UK, will be in jeopardy, the report, ITV in the Nations and Regions: Storied past, dynamic present, challenges ahead, says.

According to Mediatique, the “PSBs have delivered benefits – economic, cultural and democratic – to the UK’s nations and regions that could not have been delivered by the market alone”.   The report reveals that:

  • In 2019, ITV’s financial impact (GVA) in nations and regions totalled £538 million (£643 million including its spend with regional independent producers too)
  • For every £1 spent directly on ITV’s own staff, another £4.85 was generated elsewhere in the economy
  • Around 43 per cent of ITV’s employees (‘full time equivalent’) are based in 34 centres outside the M25.
  • ITV employs 2,116 people outside London and its activities directly and indirectly support a further 2,553 full-time equivalent jobs and thousands of high skill freelance engagements;
  • ITV broadcast 3,438 hours of new network programmes on ITV main channel in 2019 of which 48 per cent (1,663) were made out of London. In addition, 3,436 hours of nations and regions news was also broadcast on ITV main channel in 2019.

However, Mediatique highlights the need for a package of measures to sustain TV production outside London concluding that: “Without a rejuvenated PSB compact for ITV and other commercial PSBs the risk is that there would in future be:

  • Worse outcomes for UK viewers: less UK-focused content, less choice, less on-screen portrayal of the whole UK, the demise of plurality in nations and regions news
  • Worse outcomes for the UK’s nations and regions: less TV production and less economic activity outside London
  • A shift in expenditure away from regional independent producers.

The economic role ITV plays in the nations and regions is a critical one: it generates jobs and tax across the UK with a financial impact well beyond its direct investments as well as contributing to skills development, enabling talent to progress and flourish. ITV is an anchor for the creative industries outside London and the South East of England.

ITV invests in a range of TV content, making programmes across the UK for UK viewers that sell internationally.  By contrast, Mediatique find that global content players, such as Netflix, Amazon or Apple, are making high quality content but for the whole world not just the UK and in a much narrower range of genres (principally drama and comedy) than the UK PSBs. Furthermore, as Mediatique concludes, the investment by these global players in physical production hubs is concentrated in London and the SE of England.

Mediatique’s report finds that ITV’s commitment to the nations and regions of the UK is a “battle against market forces pulling in the opposite direction” with data from Nesta showing employment in film and TV increasingly concentrating in London since 1991.

At the same time, key elements that support PSB delivery and investment across the UK are threatened as TV and advertising markets globalise and as large global online gatekeeper platforms increasingly seek to control TV distribution. Furthermore, the proposed ban on HFSS food and drink advertising pre-9pm will have a particularly adverse effect on national commercial PSBs.

At stake, concludes Mediatique, is the visibility and viability of UK PSB content (which Ofcom research shows continues to be popular and perceived by audiences as important).  Ultimately, it warns that:

“There is a very real prospect in the next few years of value being extracted from the UK creative industries, particularly the PSB system, and shifted abroad – specifically to providers and platforms based in the US.”

“The new global players in TV production and distribution, valuable though they are to the UK, will not replace the public benefit delivered by ITV (or the other PSBs) particularly in the Nations and Regions of the UK”.

Urgent decisions are therefore needed to secure the enduring value of Public Service Media and there are a few key areas where Ofcom and government need to act to secure and future-proof the PSM system for the long-term, above all:

  • A new settlement between PSM providers and platforms to secure prominence, inclusion and fair value from the platforms that distribute content (both broadcast and online) from the PSMs.
    • Effective guarantee of prominence: delivering Ofcom’s ‘top of list’ linear principles online.
    • Right of inclusion: securing access to those platforms to which prominence rules apply
    • Fair value for PSM content. Prominence isn’t enough on its own if global platforms can use their financial muscle to squeeze the value out of PSM investments. Regulation must guarantee ITV the opportunity to negotiate deals that fairly reflect the value of our risky investment in UK content to UK audiences.
  • A more flexible regulatory regime for PSM to reflect rapid changes in technology, the market and viewer behaviour: for instance enabling delivery of obligations across different channels and online, assessing delivery of obligations over periods longer than a year and minimising any unnecessary rigidity in the system of quotas.
  • Sensible regulatory changes to offer modest enhancement to PSM economics
  • Pulling back from even more regulatory restrictions on advertising, for instance the proposed pre-9pm ban on HFSS food and drink advertising on TV.

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