What is STV playing at?

Last night I was a bit bored so I indulged in a spot of channel surfing to see if there was anything decent on. There usually isn’t. But even with my lowered expectations, my jaw literally dropped when I saw what STV were broadcasting — STV Roulette.

Yes, if you thought dodgy gambling programmes were the preserve of the arse end of the Sky channel list, think again. It is right here on Scotland’s Channel 3 franchise, a public service broadcaster no less. You will be delighted to know that STV plan on broadcasting this tat three days a week, for three hours a day.

Presumably this is part of of STV’s much-hyped strategy of promoting “home produced content”. However, STV Roulette and the STV Casino website are produced by NetPlay TV, whose studios are in London.

In recent times, STV has increasingly pursued a strategy of turning down the opportunity to broadcast some of ITV’s best programmes in favour of showing dodgy local clip shows, American imports and… oh, “home produced content”. But the identity of this “home produced content” remains a mystery to viewers. That is probably because it simply doesn’t exist.

I suppose Fitz — a cheap American import — is supposed to count. Apparently it has some kind of vague connection to Cracker. So the trailer tells us anyway. In fact, “Fitz” turned out to be a description of what STV viewers go through every time they realise that their favourite programme has been ditched in favour of some kind of low budget michty-me, jings, crivens and help ma boab bunch of SHITE.

Oh, and apparenty South Park counts as “home produced content” because, in the words of STV’s Managing Director of Broadcast Services, Bobby Hain, it is “mischievous and cheeky”, just like Scottish people! Huh?!

This new found love for “local” programming really is rich coming from STV too. This is a station that, just a few years ago, would do anything to avoid showing locally produced programmes. It blatantly reached its quota of regional programmes with cynical late-night repeats of Weir’s Way and extra editions of Scotland Today Interpreted For The Deaf. As if the ploy wasn’t blatant enough, these showings were ramped up a bit towards the end of the year as well, presumably because the quota needed filling.

I think a lot of people assumed that STV had already been taken over by ITV plc, which sadly is not the case. Any bosses who think people tune in to watch STV are living in cloud cuckoo land. They press button 3 to watch ITV, and expect to watch ITV programmes. That is because regional television is an anachronism that viewers do not care about. This is why STV’s odd strategy has proved so controversial.

STV’s plan wouldn’t be so laughable if it wasn’t based on the totally bogus premise that anyone actually likes regional variations. As I have written before, regional variations are always rubbish, as this excellent clip from The Armando Iannucci Shows ably explains:

I know plenty of people who have mentioned in passing how upset they are that STV refuse to broadcast their favourite programmes. Among the programmes missed by Scottish viewers are showings of the FA Cup, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Kingdom… I could go on.

New episodes of Lewis are not broadcast, but repeats are fine. New episodes of Poirot are bumped in favour of repeats of Poirot. If those have run out they will show a series of South Park. Other gaps can be filled with cheaply-sourced American imports, Irish (!) imports or films.

That shows up the policy for what it is. This stunt is nothing to do with locally produced programming. This is no favour to the Scottish viewers. It’s all about money. Or so you would think. Quite how STV intends to increase advertising revenues by showing a load of cheap C-grade crap in place of what the viewers are actually expecting is a mystery to all.

STV Roulette is a prime example of STV’s clueless desperation to make money. It is not as if ITV plc has a better record in this department. A couple of years ago it fell in love with the then-fashionable “quiz television” fad, where late-night viewers would be goaded into phoning a premium rate number to answer a question with no proper answer. ITV even set up an entire channel, ITV Play, dedicated to the genre. That was until the public realised they were being hoodwinked, bad publicity ensued and the whole quiz television industry backfired on itself.

At least ITV have got over the fad however. STV seems not to have noticed that it’s bad form to put on this sort of programming. It apparently has no qualms about dedicating 9 hours per week of its channel towards encouraging late-night (i.e. drunk) viewers to gamble.

Sometimes I wonder if STV’s real strategy is to deliberately drive itself into the ground. That way it wouldn’t have to bother with all of that pesky “catering to the viewers” or “making money” business like other commercial channels. Instead it could rely on subsidies for its eternal existence. Genius.

It is already going cap in hand asking for a £5 million subsidy in return for carrying out one of its obligations as a public service broadcaster. Apparently five mil a “reasonable sum”. I am not sure how many people would agree with that, though I reckon a lot of people would be more receptive to the request if they actually showed any sign of wishing to serve their viewers rather than going on some odd crusade of apparent self-destruction.

Watch STV? I’ll opt out, thanks.

8 comments

  1. Hi Duncan.

    Great article and a very accurate one.

    It would be interesting to know what Scotland’s Sky subscribers do i.e ITV is on ch 947 or something on Sky. Will they continue to watch their fav shows on that channel or watch STV’s shows? I see this as the avenue to get STV to change their minds. Not exactly sure this data would ever come out though. If this happens to any extent then maybe the market, if you like, will drive STV to reconsider.

    I think this is almost a symtom of a wider problem with Scottish broadcasting. We are to focused on Scotland- there is a programme tonight on BBC about Scotland road to war- we didnt have a road to war, we had a part to play in Britains road to war. Its almost as of broadcasters think if they focus on scotland, then thats there job done.

    I would say im delighted STV have a Scottish Rugby show on- highlights at 5.30 on sundays and live Edinburgh vs Glasgow. That to me is producing scottish output and not South Park and count downs of ‘great scots’.

  2. Thanks for the comment Richard.

    Another way to measure the success of STV’s strategy is to compare ratings for ITV1 in the rest of the UK with ratings for STV. STV have had a few winners, but only for their biggest programmes. In general, it seems as though ITV1 is gaining a larger viewer share than STV during the opt-outs.

  3. You can always do what I did and complain to Ofcom. Why should we have to buy expensive satellite equipment to watch what the rest of the UK gets for free??

  4. I was in England last week. I watched “Wuthering Heights”. If I was there tonight I could have watched “Miss Marple”.
    So STV is showing more local stuff? Where on earth in our beautiful country was tonight’s film about the ‘young surfer falling for a hunky athlete’ made? Maybe near Mellon Udrigle?

  5. Duncan

    STV was SHITE before, (Midsommer Murders? eh?) and it’s still SHITE.

    I don’t know what it’s trying to do. Survive probably.

    What I’d be looking for out of a Scotland-only channel would be News (a la Radio Scotland,) Current Affairs linked closely with Holyrood, Culture based on the many quality festivals in Scotland’s town’s and cities, Drama produced in Scotland, Comedy from the Comedy Unit, Scottish Sport, (do we play sport any more??) Quality / Cult movies not necessarily Scottish, some Scottish-produced Kids TV, Scottish Countryside and Wildlife programming, Regional focus on ‘interesting’ topics, and yes, good quality programmes from elsewhere in the ITV franchise, but not flooding our screens.

    I’m not interested in Shortbread, Tartan, etc.. , and anything that portrays us as numpties.

    Is this too much to ask for??

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Crossman, I fear that complaining to Ofcom is futile. STV are well within their rights to ditch ITV network programming in favour of their own programming. In fact, you’d probably have a lot more luck complaining about there being too little in the way of local programming, though in truth Ofcom has shown itself to be increasingly ambivalent about the issue in recent years.

    Andrew BOD, Your channel sounds like it would be great! It’s a shame no-one seems to have either the ambition or (more likely) the money to make it happen.

  7. You don’t need expensive satellite equipment to get ITV1 – opt for FREEsat or watch ITV1 on the ITV player. STV is rubbish, when they do show ITV network programmes they don’t advertise them, instead they plug their own rubbish.