The key recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission was the creation of a new public service digital network for Scotland. This integrated broadcast and broadband service is essential to provide secure and sustainable PSB competition to the BBC in Scotland.
Public attitude surveys show that people in Scotland wish to have more choice and more competition in high-quality Scottish content. Overwhelmingly, they support the idea of the Scottish Digital Network.
STV has all but disappeared as a source of PSB competition for the BBC. The opt-out approach to regional broadcasting on BBC and ITV is a legacy model from the analogue age and reduces rather than extends choice. It does not provide viewers in Scotland with the volume and range of Scottish content that they demand. For STV, the obstacles in opting-out tend to be commercial. For BBC, they tend to be corporate.
The new service would provide a wide range of public service content including extensive news and current affairs, but also entertainment, documentaries and drama. It would be ambitious, risk-taking, contemporary, bold, original and intelligent. It should transmit programmes that producers feel passionate about and that audiences love. It would be distinctively Scottish but with an outward-looking perspective – recognisably Scottish, but not relentlessly Scottish, which is the way most Scots like to be themselves.
If there is to be no new funding for public service broadcasting, then we have to consider funding the new Scottish Digital Network out of the television licence fee. We estimated the annual costs of the new service at about £75 million. A similar but separate exercise for Ofcom came up with a figure of £77 million, so the number is probably about right. That is only about 2% of the income currently generated by the licence fee, so there is no question of the new service being unaffordable.
Digital switchover in 2012 makes it possible for the first time to create a universally available Scottish service without displacing any of the existing UK-wide broadcasters. The Scottish Digital Network is supported overwhelmingly by the Scottish public and unanimously by every political party in the Scottish Parliament.
The network should be seen as part of the broader evolution of the UK towards a more dispersed and less centralised model – less centralised both constitutionally and culturally. It’s the point at which broadcasting begins to catch up with devolution.