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  7. Commercial impact missing from debate about future of BBC Scotland
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Guardian TV Festival last week
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Guardian TV Festival last week
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Guardian TV Festival last week

Thanks to the Edinburgh Television Festival last week and the First Minister’s well-received speech on the future of the BBC in Scotland, commentators and politicians piled in over the weekend to have their say about the state broadcaster.

The vast majority centred on how much more Auntie could or should be doing in Scotland, with political observations about what this means for the relationship between the Scottish Government, the BBC and the political messages the public will receive.

There was also plenty on how much better it would be for Scottish creative industries if more BBC loot was spent on making programmes up here.

Nowhere, as far as I can see, has one word suggested that actually the BBC should be doing less in Scotland. Even if that is an unrealistic proposition there has certainly been no discussion about the effect the BBC continues to have on the commercial media and information industries and the consequences of even more power concentrated in its hands.

A bigger BBC Scotland would spend more with independent Scottish producers and therefore can only be a good thing, we are led to believe. That may be true to a degree, but I don’t believe for a minute it’s so simple.

Ms Sturgeon’s call for a dedicated BBC Scotland channel and another radio station seems to have been roundly welcomed up here, yet there has been little examination of the likely effect on STV or commercial radio.

And as everything the BBC does these days comes with a sophisticated on-line and mobile arm, neither has the effect on other online content providers like newspaper publishers merited much thought.

But the reality of the BBC is it never leaves a creative media market knowingly undistorted, yet the picture it paints is of a benign and benevolent organisation which brings nothing but good wherever it goes.

Yet no consideration has been given to the implications an even more dominant BBC Scotland will have not just on commercial media companies, but on the markets their commercial services are designed to meet.

If commercial TV, radio and written word businesses are marginalised as audiences continue to move to new BBC products, how do their clients communicate with their customers?

Study after study shows that modern advertising effectiveness relies on a multi-media approach and I doubt very much if anything written or said over the past week in support of a bigger BBC Scotland has considered the impact on the broader economy of a commercial media sector from which the life-blood of mass audiences has been sucked.

Criticism, such as there has been, has focussed on the implication of a bigger state broadcaster being subjected to tighter control and scrutiny by a dominant media-savvy political party. That’s a real concern which cannot be dismissed lightly, but it is not the only consideration.

If the BBC is allowed to launch more services aimed at Scottish newspaper, TV and radio audiences what happens to the £580m Scottish advertising market? It’s not all going to go to adshells, leaflets and cinemas.

Have those joining the headlong rush to further empower BBC Scotland stopped to wonder what that might mean for the 32,000 people currently working in advertising and marketing in Scotland, or Scotland’s 800 advertising and marketing companies? Did they even know that’s how important the sector is?

Commercial media is a hard place to be. Only last week STV reported reduced profits because of the investment it has made in its two new local TV stations, STV Edinburgh and Glasgow.

No-one should forget that STV deliberately chose not to accept the government grants on offer so the new stations were better able to stand on their own feet. It seems unfair if STV is to be rewarded for broadening choice without burdening the public purse with an even more aggressive state TV competitor.

As for radio, what content will feature on a new station? The chances are it will look at the massive success of Britain’s biggest station, Radio 2, and the kind of audiences enjoyed by Radio Clyde and Forth and conclude it is failing to meet a demand.

In the printed word sector, the BBC runs extensive feature material on its websites aimed at newspaper readers, often produced by specifically hired newspaper journalists, and makes wide use of social media to compete with local publications.

BBC Scotland’s attitude towards newspapers is transparent. Only last week it broadcast a negative report about the industry but then denied there was any need for a balancing view from the sector.

And so far commercial balance has been sadly lacking from the debate about the future of BBC Scotland. But maybe that’s the way it and its many friends like it.