ITV is launching a £38m lawsuit against STV over the Scottish broadcaster's decision to axe peak-time favourites including Midsomer Murders, Doc Martin and The Bill.
The row has been rumbling for some time, since STV cut back on expensive programmes produced by ITV in favour of regional alternatives.
ITV says the move breaks the broadcasters' network agreement, leaving a hole in STV's contractual contribution to the ITV programmes budget. After more than a year, it has now turned to the courts to settle the dispute. "STV is attempting retrospectively to opt out of an increasing number of peak-time programmes which contravenes existing agreements," ITV said in a statement yesterday. "The company is also wrongly attempting to claim a rebate against programmes which have been 'written off'."
ITV says that, in response, it is withholding money due to STV under an advertising sales agreement against the programme budget debt, which it currently sets at between £15m and £20m.
"We have been attempting to resolve this matter for more than a year but unfortunately our efforts have been unsuccessful," ITV added. "Given that we are a commercial organisation, with responsibilities to our shareholders, we are left with no option but to take legal action to recover this sizeable debt."
STV was equally robust in its defence. "STV and ITV have been in discussions for many months on numerous matters, of which this is just one," the company said. "STV has not yet been served with any claim and is disappointed that ITV has acted in this pre-emptive manner."
The fracas is just one of a number of points of conflicts between the two broadcasters. Last week, STV announced plans to opt out of the ITV network 6.30pm evening news bulletin in favour of a new 6pm Scottish programme to be produced in partnership with ITN.
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