UTV is to be permitted to produce fewer locally made programmes because of financial and competitive pressures caused by the pending digital switchover, an Ofcom report said today.
The watchdog report into the future of public service broadcasting in the UK has also raised the possibility that in the future UTV could partner another broadcaster in the UK or the Republic
to provide a schedule if the ITV-free network schedule was no longer available.
The Ofcom report said £145-£235m in replacement funding is needed across the UK by 2012 to sustain public service broadcasting.
The report states that Northern Ireland audiences attach particular importance to local programmes.
It stated: “This is especially true for news, where audiences here have told us they want to maintain competition with the BBC.
“UTV has a very strong heritage of producing popular programmes, but Ofcom has to be realistic about how much local programming commercial public service broadcasting channels like UTV can afford to produce in the face of growing financial and competitive pressures as we move towards digital switchover.
“Ofcom is proposing some reductions in the amount of programming UTV has to produce but in response to audiences’ clear preferences Ofcom is particularly concerned to prioritise news.”
It has been proposed that UTV’s minimum hours of local news is to be reduced from five hours 20 minutes to four hours per week, while the weekly quota for ‘non-news’ will drop from three hours to one and a half hours in 2009.
Peak, near peak and current affairs quotas will all remain at their current levels.
The report added: “We would stress that these are minimum requirements and UTV will be free to produce more if they wish.”
According to Ofcom the longer term future of UTV depends on whether ITV remains a designated public service broadcaster, with formal obligations to provide local programming.
“If the ITV network schedule was no longer available, it is possible that UTV could partner with another broadcaster from elsewhere in the UK or the Republic.”
Ofcom Director for Northern Ireland Denis Wolinski concluded: “Viewers in Northern Ireland clearly value the programming made by UTV and BBC Northern Ireland.”