UTV wants Channel 3 to return to its regional roots

Northern Irish broadcaster UTV has told the government not to worry about ITV’s move away from the regions – because other operators will fill the gap.

In its response to Lord Carter’s Digital Britain consultation, the owner of the Channel 3 television franchise in Northern Ireland said that it was regional news and programming – not consolidation – that attracted audiences.

ITV, which owns the majority of the UK’s Channel 3 licences, has cut 430 jobs in regional news in the past year as part of a major restructuring, which has seen the merger of 17 TV news regions into nine larger areas.

One of the options it is considering in the long term is to hand back its licence and become a purely commercial broadcaster without any public service broadcasting (PSB) requirements.

“Should ITV plc take the view that there is not a value to holding a Channel 3 licence and hand back their licences, other media companies and/or content providers will see a value,” UTV said in its response, published today.

“The concern that a void would be created in high quality commercial PSB provision is misplaced as it would undoubtedly be filled by another operator.

“In England there may be the possibility of regionality at a much lower level than the current ITV map allows.”

UTV group chief executive John McCann added: “Our experience has shown that the principles of regionality are as important now to our audience in the digital age as they were when Channel 3 was set up to cater for an analogue audience in the Fifties.”

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