Rob Woodward on the launch of STV’s local channels

Rob Woodward hopes the identity Glaswegians hold so dear will make local TV a winner. Picture: John Devlin
Rob Woodward hopes the identity Glaswegians hold so dear will make local TV a winner. Picture: John Devlin
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IT’S Thursday morning, and some 40 delegates from the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce are about to become the first outsiders to get a look at the set of The Riverside Show, the flagship programme of STV’s forthcoming city television station.

The interview lounge is meant to look like a typical riverside flat, but the custom-made sofas sit higher than normal so presenters and guests are best-framed by the views from the windows behind. Jennifer Reoch and David Farrell will be backed by the SSE Hydro, while guests on the daily magazine programme are flanked by the Squinty Bridge.

The aim is to underscore the unabashed focus on local news, both by the programme and the station as a whole. The feeling is that nothing will say “live from Glasgow” better than these iconic backdrops.

It’s all part of chief executive Rob Woodward’s campaign to build a more “intimate relationship” with STV’s audience, whom he describes as “consumers” of the content his company now supplies across a variety of platforms. “What this is all about is a huge commitment to being part of the community,” Woodward tells his guests from the chamber.

“When I was growing up in Troon, STV was very much a part of our lives. It was accessible, it was friendly, and it was on your side. We need to get back to that.”

STV Glasgow was one of 19 local television licences awarded throughout the UK by regulator Ofcom in January 2013. It will begin broadcasting to an estimated two million potential viewers on 2 June with the inaugural airing of The Riverside Show.

Local TV has at best a patchy track record in the UK, with notable cable failures such as Live TV, Channel M and Channel One.

The first to begin broadcasting in this latest crop of licences have also run into difficulties. London Live – owned by Evening Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev and airing to a potential audience of more than nine million – has recorded an official audience figure of zero for some of its news programmes.

Woodward is predicting a more positive start for STV Glasgow and sister station STV Edinburgh, which is due to launch later in the year.

One of the biggest advantages both will enjoy is that they are the only two local licences so far to be awarded to an incumbent broadcaster. The synergies are obvious, ranging from the comparatively sumptuous set at STV’s Pacific Quay headquarters to accessing the archives for classics such as Take the High Road and Taggart.

Original programming will also feature, such as My Life in Ten Pictures, a biography of prominent Glaswegians from all walks of life. Woodward steps in front of the camera for the initial programme, an in-depth interview with City Refrigeration’s Sir Willie Haughey.

Though he won’t front every episode in that series, Woodward’s background makes him a natural for quizzing business personalities.

Following stints with accountancy group Deloitte and UBS Corporate Finance, he spent four years as commercial director at Channel 4. He was then a senior adviser at LongAcre Partners before joining STV as chief executive in 2007, when the company was said to be months away from bankruptcy.

He led a five-year fight to restore profits and credibility at the group, culminating in the return of dividend payments this spring after a seven-year hiatus. That period also saw the close to a bitter and long-running dispute with ITV, the Channel 3 broadcaster in England and Wales.

Woodward describes the journey as “putting the ‘S’ back in STV”, a programme he plans to continue by further strengthening and integrating the links between the group’s broadcasting and online operations. STV Glasgow, for example, will be interactive from day one and draw upon resources from other parts of the group’s “digital family”.

“In the past there was really only one way to consume our content, and that was at home,” he says. “We didn’t have a family – we had one product.”

The core STV channel reaches 91 per cent of Scots, three times more than Channel 4, four times more than Channel Five, and 20 times more than Sky One.

In addition, nearly three-quarters of Scots use at least one other service per month such as STV Player, the group’s on-demand catch-up service. Almost half of all player views are via a mobile device, and Woodward says that number will continue to rise.

If anything, it would seem that STV is capitalising from the rising online tide which many predicted would erode the traditional market for broadcasting.

“In fact, the opposite is happening because what people are actually doing is engaging with our content through these social media platforms,” Woodward says.

The lines will be further blurred as STV Glasgow takes online offerings such as Bit Socket – the Glasgow-based video games comedy – to the airwaves. Tenement TV, the music website out of the West End that rose to fame on YouTube, also gets a slot in the programming line-up.

The objective is to present a fairer, more rounded reflection of Glasgow, which is often singled out for a poor track record in areas such as health and unemployment. Surveying potential viewers in the run-up to the station’s launch, STV found that 70 per cent of residents believed Glasgow was unfairly portrayed in the media.

“We want a balanced combination,” Woodward says. “We want a medium that talks to Glasgow in an adult way.”


Job: Chief executive, STV.

Born: November 1959, raised in Troon.

Education: Marr College, Durham University, Edinburgh University.

First job: Strategic analyst with Kimberly-Clark in Kent.

Ambition while at school: Airline pilot.

Car: Land Rover Discovery.

Kindle or book? I really should say Kindle, shouldn’t I? But the truthful answer is book.

Can’t live without: 1977 Triumph Spitfire.

Favourite place: New York.

What makes you angry? People with a lack of principles – and telling untruths.