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

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The following update has been provided to stakeholders from STV CEO, Simon Pitts.

"As you would expect, we have been doing our utmost to support our people, our viewers, our customers and our local communities right across Scotland since lockdown, and below we provide an update on our ongoing programme of action.
 
Serving our viewers
We are very proud to be Scotland’s commercial public service broadcaster. The requirement for trusted news and information, in particular, has never been more critical than during this difficult period and STV’s news and current affairs team has worked tirelessly to provide high quality, comprehensive and trusted coverage.  Across 2020, STV News continues to be the best watched news programme in Scotland, with audiences up 21%, with our evening news now regularly achieving ratings of more than half a million viewers and a 35% share. Recent Ofcom research also confirmed that STV is the most trusted TV channel in Scotland for coronavirus news and information, with a 78% trust rating, while earlier this month STV News won the RTS Scotland award for best news programme for the third year in succession.
 
The need for reliable news has been matched in recent weeks only by the desire for escapism and entertainment.  Scots have been spending an average of five and a half hours per day in front of their TV screen (an hour more since lockdown), with 70% of that time spent watching broadcast TV. Of the top ten best watched new drama series of the year, seven have aired on STV including White House Farm and Quiz, and this has propelled us to the highest year on year growth in audience volume of any terrestrial channel in the UK – double the rate of growth of the ITV Network and four times that of BBC1 Scotland. Our overall audience share is the highest it has been in over a decade.
 
We now have 2000+ hours of programming on our digital streaming service, the STV Player, including over 50 box sets and a huge catalogue of STV favourites and newly acquired drama, entertainment and sport. Acclaimed international dramas like Gracepoint and Crownies, alongside early episodes of beloved classic, Take the High Road, are helping to boost digital streams, which have grown by 70% so far this year.  We also announced a deal this month which will shortly see the STV Player launch UK-wide on Virgin Media for the first time, extending the reach of our service to millions of new TV households.
 
Getting back into production
Making TV shows has been challenging during lockdown, though our STV Productions team have been at their creative best, winning and delivering two new commissions, including a new series for Channel 5 based on the Royal family’s relationship with the tabloids, The Palace and the Press, which was produced without physically meeting any of the contributors and in challenging circumstances.
 
As lockdown restrictions slowly ease, one of the biggest challenges facing our sector is how we resume production safely. We have worked hard with our fellow broadcasters, producers and both the UK and Scottish Governments to publish a safety protocol for this return to work, and we’re delighted that Scotland’s most popular shows, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, are now filming again. STV Productions will be back in the studio to film a brand new series of Catchphrase early next month, and we have plans to resume filming for our long running BBC series – Antiques Road Trip – in the coming days. The work involved in ensuring cast and crew stay safe during production is extensive, and the creativity our teams have shown in bringing these much-loved productions back to life in unprecedented circumstances is impressive. We’re thrilled to have the cameras rolling again.
 
Though we recognise we are still some way from business as usual, we are particularly excited about the prospect of getting back into drama production again following the success of The Victim and Elizabeth is Missing last year. Both were produced in Scotland for the BBC, and earned STV Productions a total of three BAFTA nominations earlier this month.
 
Our advertising partners
In March this year we announced the doubling of our STV Growth Fund to £20m, as we seek to make advertising even more affordable and accessible for Scottish SMEs looking to bounce back from coronavirus.
 
As part of this, we gifted almost £1m from the Fund to support businesses and charities that were helping the most vulnerable in our communities at their most difficult time.  A total of 105 Scottish businesses and charities were celebrated on air during lockdown as part of STV’s Local Lifeline campaign.  From football clubs delivering prescriptions and walking dogs, to a gin distiller making hand sanitiser and a zoo bringing their experience online for kids to enjoy, the campaign truly marked the best of community spirit across Scotland.
 
Our commercial team is now turning its attention fully to helping SMEs across Scotland get back up and running.  Scotland’s small business community is the beating heart of our economy and we look forward to working closely with them as we kick-start the market together.
 
Our impact on society
Creating a lasting social impact in our communities by using the power of TV to do good and to effect change has long been one of STV’s core objectives. Since lockdown the STV Children’s Appeal team has distributed more than £1.5m to help children and young people living in poverty who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, We plan to continue with our innovative approach to fundraising - from virtual concerts with Annie Lennox, KT Tunstall and Amy McDonald, to the Facebook Live Homeschool Cookalong with Gary Maclean – to help make a difference to our most vulnerable communities.
 
Most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought the importance of championing diversity and inclusion very much to the fore.  We take our role and responsibility very seriously here, and had already embarked on a comprehensive strategy, building a network of activists throughout our business and working with them to make impactful and lasting change. But we aren’t yet where we need to be as a company and we can and must go faster. Last week’s shocking Scotland Tonight special on STV on the lived experience of Black and Asian people in Scotland showed both the positive role television can play in driving change, and just how far we still have to travel as a society.

A strong STV for the future
We are privileged to play an important role in the lives of our viewers, our customers and our communities, especially at this time.  But to continue to do this effectively we need to make sure we are in the strongest possible position as a business.
 
From the outset of the pandemic we have put in place measures to conserve cash and costs while continuing to support our people, our viewers and our partners. We have reduced discretionary spending, cut our 2019 shareholder dividend, extended our bank facilities, and our leadership team have taken voluntary salary cuts. We have also accessed the Government’s furlough scheme, though all colleagues have had their salaries topped up to 100% to ensure they are not financially disadvantaged.
 
This package of measures culminated last week in a share placing exercise, which successfully raised more than £15m from existing and new shareholders to strengthen our financial position over the coming months as we continue to navigate the deepest downturn the commercial TV sector has ever experienced.  Subject to shareholder approval on the 6th July, this will ensure we are able to continue to invest in the growth strategy that has served STV so well these last 2 years, as market conditions begin to normalise.

In the meantime, thank you again for your support and partnership as we continue to work through this crisis together."