Back in July I wrote about the comical attempts by ESTV Ltd – the provider of the London local television service London Live – to vary the programming commitments in its local television licence to make it LESS LOCAL. At the time I commented that ‘ESTV have exactly ZERO change of their request being granted.’
Today Ofcom published the decision of the the Broadcast Licensing Committee (BLC) to whom the Ofcom Board has delegated the discharge of certain of its functions in relation to television and radio broadcast licensing. They have, as expected, firmly rejected the proposed programming commitments variation. The BLC noted that the request could only be approved if the BLC considered that all of the four statutory criteria were satisfied. Those being:
- a) that the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service,
- b) that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number and range of the programmes about the area or locality for which the service is licensed,
- c) that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number of programmes made in the area or locality for which the service is licensed, and
- d) that the service would continue to meet the needs of the area or locality for which the service is licensed
The BLC ruled that ESTV only satisfied one of these criteria, point D.
On point A the BLC decided the requested changes would clearly substantially alter the character of the service. ” in the section headed “Programming Output”, the addition of the words “Will endeavour to”, in relation to the Licensed Service being an interactive news and entertainment service created in, for and by those who live and work in the Licensed Area (as defined in the Licence), and the addition of the words “Where available will”, in relation to the inclusion in the Licensed Service of hyper-local programming delivered through 33 digital platforms in the Boroughs and City of the Licensed Area, would result in a very significant weakening of these elements of the Programming Commitments, to the extent that it was difficult to see how these could be regarded as meaningful Programming Commitments.”
On Point B: “The BLC considered that the changes, taken as a whole, would result in an unacceptable reduction to the number and range of programmes about the area or locality for the Licensed Area. In particular, the BLC was concerned that the proposal to include the wording “Where available will”, as referred to under Ground (a) above, would remove the obligation to include hyper-local programming delivered through digital platforms in each of the London boroughs. This had been a particularly important factor in the award of the Licence to ESTV. ”
On Point C: ” The BLC considered that the overall effect of the changes appeared to be a reduction in the number of programmes made in the Licensed Area, in particular given the proposal to remove the requirement relating to hyper-local programming from the London boroughs and the proposed reduction in the hours of first-run local programming in years 2 and 3 of the Licence. However, the BLC considered that ESTV had not provided sufficiently clear information on the impact of these changes for the BLC to be satisfied that there would not be an unacceptable reduction in the number of programmes made in the Licensed Area. ”
Perhaps key to the ruling was the fact that the BLC noted that the invitation to apply for L-DTPS licences published by Ofcom stated that, as the programming commitments would be a binding licence condition, prospective applicants were encouraged to consider very carefully what proposals they could realistically deliver, and that the assessment of applications for the purpose of the licence award decision was based on the applicants’ proposals
This was the first time the BLC has considered a request to approve a departure from the character of service of local TV licence (an L-DTPS).