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An update from Chief Exec, Simon Pitts: STV’s response to COVID-19

The following update has been provided to stakeholders from STV CEO, Simon Pitts.
 
"As we all navigate this challenging time I wanted to update on what STV is doing to support our people, viewers, customers and local communities, as we come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Like most businesses, we’ve had to make changes to how we operate to reflect our new temporary reality.  And while the health and safety of our people is our biggest priority, we have also acted quickly to support those who are impacted most by this crisis across Scotland.
 
Our Viewers
"On STV and the STV Player we’re achieving record audiences and keeping millions of Scots informed and entertained when they need it most.  We’ve had to make changes to our schedule to protect our people as they continue to do their work, but STV continues to be the best watched peak time channel in Scotland and in March, seven of the top 10 best watched programmes in Scotland were on our channel.
 
We now broadcast a single nightly STV News at Six programme featuring updates from across the country.  It is achieving audiences of over half a million people every night, a 30%+ share of viewing, and has become a vital source of information for Scots during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our news audience has actually increased every month for the last six months and this is down to the commitment and insight of our talented team.
 
The recent move of our current affairs programme, Scotland Tonight, into peak time on Thursday evenings has more than quadrupled its audience, with a recent Coronavirus special achieving an audience of over 400,000 viewers at 7.30pm.
 
We’re also ensuring viewers have more options on the STV Player, all free to watch.  STV’s digital growth has accelerated further in the first quarter of the year, with digital viewing up 80%.  We’re regularly uploading new content, including new dramas Quiz and Belgravia, and now have over 50 box sets available, including STV Player-exclusive dramas like The Slap, Janet King and Rake.
 
Supporting local communities, charities and businesses
"It’s vital that we use the power of TV to help others during this crisis, and I’m very proud of the range of initiatives we have introduced to help our viewers, community charities and local businesses who need us more than ever.
 
STV's Local Lifeline initiative kicked off in March and will see us commit £1 million of free TV airtime to celebrate local businesses and charities who are doing heroic work to help those who need it most, from a gin maker in Harris manufacturing hand sanitizer, to a property company in Aberdeen sponsoring a foodbank.  In its first week our campaign championed 30 local businesses on screen and we are in dialogue with over 100 more, all making a valuable difference in their communities.  We’ve also doubled our Growth Fund to £20m to make TV advertising more accessible so that Scottish SMEs can come back strongly when the situation normalises.
 
Already, STV has donated more than £1m in emergency funding to help Scotland’s most vulnerable families via the STV Children’s Appeal, the Scottish Government Wellbeing Fund and the Scottish Children’s Lottery.
 
Just this week, the STV Children’s Appeal and Lorraine Kelly launched an emergency coronavirus fundraising campaign in partnership with the National Emergencies Trust, to support the children and young people hit hardest by this pandemic.
 
Finally, in partnership with mental health charity SAMH, we have launched the next phase of our Britain Get Talking campaign, inviting viewers to share messages of love and support with their families and friends and featuring a range of these messages - alongside some of STV’s famous faces – in peaktime on STV.
 
Strengthening our business
"STV’s strategic growth plan has delivered strong results in the last two years, but our priority now is to ensure the financial resilience of the business for the long term. We’ve therefore taken a number of steps to save costs in order that we are in the best possible position when this situation starts to normalise.
 
Like many other listed companies, we have cancelled payment of the 2019 final shareholder dividend, and identified a range of other cost saving measures. The Management Board and plc Board of STV have taken a voluntary 25% salary reduction for the duration of lockdown and we’ve also postponed the payment of performance bonuses for the Management Board earned in 2019.
 
To reflect our scaled back operations we have furloughed a number of STV colleagues under the Job Retention Scheme and are topping up salaries to 100% of earnings to ensure that no STV colleagues are financially impacted.  We’ll also top up the wages of those on short term contracts engaged by STV Productions to 100%, recognising the key role they play in growing the production business. Our brilliant people are our biggest asset and we have every intention of bringing everyone back to work as and when the situation normalises. In the meantime, those STV colleagues not on furlough will accrue double their holiday entitlement for the period of lockdown as a token of appreciation.
 
Looking Forward
"I hope over the coming weeks that our thoughts will increasingly turn to how we manage a safe return to a more normalised situation both in our personal lives and at work. The TV sector plays a crucial role in the UK’s creative economy and it will take some careful planning by us all to ensure we hit the ground running when the situation permits.
 
In the meantime we will continue to do our very best for our people, our viewers, our communities and our fellow Scottish businesses.