Scotch mist: Ofcom market report for Scotland

loch ness

Loch Ness from Taylor Dundee's Flickr photostream

The publication of the large suite of documents and data included in the Ofcom  Communications Market report 2009 contains a great deal of rich information – perhaps too diverse and dense to be as useful as it might be.  The report covers a wide array on information of such different species, from delivery of PSB quotas to public attitudes to the recession, that some commentators are questioning whether Ofcom’s remit is too large to be of benefit now.  The main report, at 334 pages on the web, is supplemented by shorter reports, including the Nations and Regions Communication Report, of which the Scotland version is 117 pages.  Small wonder then that commentary in Scotland has tended to be around the Scottish version and the summary statistics produced. And that some important points have been obscured in Scotch mist and myths.

But there are  important points.  In terms of market behaviour,  there are more similarities than differences between Scotland and the UK in terms of behaviour, attitudes and takeup of new technology.  The percentage differentials are small and the trends are the same. The report includes charts on the differences between Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh which are more usefully compared with the UK major cities.  This shows  citizens in Edinburgh to be the most digitally enabled in the UK, more than London, and those in Glasgow to be the least in the UK.  But the problem with this data is the size of the sample.  With less than 100 people interviewed in Scotland, Ofcom cautions against drawing too many conclusions but of course people do because the pictures speak louder than the words.  So we again focus on the digital divide in Scotland, clearly shown to be from poverty and poverty of aspiration rather than the availability of cable.

The report describes the progress towards the tipping point where consumers chose digital over analogue, on line experiences over off line broadcasting and entertainment.  Nearly half of people will cut back on nights out – which includes visits to theatres and concerts and nearly one third will cut back on music, books and DVDs, one fifth on newspapers and magazines rather than cut back on internet and communications.  In the ‘what would you miss most?” question, NOONE would ‘miss most’  the activity of  listening to music on the hifi (as opposed to 18% in 2005).

The report also describes the delivery of quotas for nations and regions from Public Service Broadcasters. Although quotas for content production in the nations and regions have been met (main report), the charts and data show decline in spend in Scotland (as there is in the UK), and less in and for Scotland than Wales and Northern Ireland.  The BBC has changed the way it measures things.  Quotas include content made in Scotland and content for Scotland and so the report does not facilitate intelligent response.  No wonder Mike Russell has expressed dismay and asked for clarification. But the figures in themselves are only one symptom of the truth. Scotland should have its own digital channel, as recommended by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and we need to produce content to, for and from Scotland to complement the international and UK content available to us.

Lies, damned lies and statistics. And some Scotch mist. Ofcom, NESTA and other UK agencies helpfully include Scottish reports as annexes to their UK reports.  Maybe its time we produced some simple, intelligent reports from the perspective of Scotland.

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