One part of the UK has been left in a televisual limbo by a 60 year anomaly that is now impacting HD reception and streaming.
Around a quarter of a million people live in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. An area that’s firmly within Scotland, but not far enough within Scotland to receive STV. The affected area reaches within 20 miles of Edinburgh.
ITV officially covers the area as part of the Border TV region, but its presence north of the border generally goes unacknowledged. Press releases, statements from platform operators and online help guides offer misleading statements as to what is available where and when.
The anomaly has been in place since the 1960s, when the then Independent Television Authority (ITA) decided a local operator should run the ITV service in the borders – Granada and Scottish Television had both been interested in extending their broadcast areas to their respective side of the border.
The advent of new media and devolution in Scotland has created new pressures on this anomaly. Border Scotland was reinstated as an opt-out service in 2014, after originally being axed and merged with Tyne Tees. But the area’s channel 3 service does create some interesting issues…
▶ ITVX’s half-correct message regarding the availability of programmes in Scotland.
In fact, the STV Player does not offer the full set of programmes to viewers with a Southern Scottish postcode. This includes most TD and DG postcodes, plus EH45 (Peebles).
How the Border anomaly affects TV viewing and streaming
- It’s one of just two areas left where the local ITV1 service isn’t broadcast in HD on satellite. The other is ITV1 Channel Television. On satellite, viewers can see ITV1 HD Border England further down the channel list. On Freeview, viewers receive ITV1 HD Granada, from Salford.
- Since devolution, Scotland has its own growing set of laws and policies, meaning news items featured on ITV1 don’t always to apply to Scotland. Border Scotland viewers don’t have access to a comprehensive Scotland-specific news bulletin on their channel 3 service. Since 2014, Border Scotland is obligated to carry extra programmes covering politics and local affairs. These are often broadcast late at night.
- Signposting to the correct streaming service gets complicated: statements released to news outlets frequently get it wrong. A recent announcement claimed the STV Player would “make ITVX Premiere content exclusively available in Scotland”. This is in fact not the case if you use a southern Scottish postcode. Deep down in the support pages, STV does acknowledge the anomaly, without specific reference to the affected areas. ITVX meanwhile tells users that if you’re in Scotland, you need to use the STV Player, even if you’re within Scotland and can’t.
- At one point, the old ITV Hub didn’t appear on Freesat if you were in the Scottish Borders, when Freesat used to list the on-demand players on channels 901/2. Since then, all new Freesat receivers carry both ITVX and the STV Player. You can select any postcode you like when you create your ITVX/STV Player account to make the most of both streaming services.
▶ Freeview’s messaging sounds like ITV1 reception is an exception, rather than the norm
Freeview’s notes claim viewers in the Scottish Borders “may” receive ITV on [logical channel number] 3. In fact all local main Freeview transmitters and relays in the region carry ITV1, in line with Ofcom’s licensing of Channel 3 services. STV’s signals struggle to penetrate far, due to the terrain of the area.
What’s the solution?
Next year, Ofcom will begin revisiting the situation with Channel 3 services across the UK as part of ITV and STV’s licence renewal. As part of the process it will review how many hours of regional programming ITV and STV must broadcast.
The last licence renewal resulted in the former HTV West and Wales region being officially split. It also resulted in STV, ITV Border Scotland, UTV (now part of ITV) and ITV1 Wales being required to screen a higher number of regional programmes.
There are three options:
- ITV, STV or Ofcom could initiate a move that would see Border Scotland handed over to STV. STV may still be required to show specific news programmes for the south, in the same way it broadcasts a ‘north’ edition of STV News currently.
- Ofcom could maintain the status quo, with ITV continuing to produce extra programmes just for Border Scotland.
- ITV could also buy out STV and thus the last remaining independent Channel 3 licence holder. There would be one streaming service for all areas and the prospect that Border Scotland could take more shows shown in the rest of Scotland. But ITV sold its last remaining shares in STV in 2013 and talks of a takeover fizzled out in 2018. Instead, both companies are focused on strategic partnerships rather than a merger or takeover.
Ultimately, Border Scotland is unlikely to go HD until ITV finishes off its SD switchover on satellite. Last year, ITV closed a number of smaller sub-regions to enable it to rollout more regional HD services.
By Iain Hatton
updated 15:06 20/12/2022