TV-BAY December 2012
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Local TV: the big debate by Will Strauss O ver the years many people have tried (and failed) to successfully run local television stations throughout the British Isles. In the main it was funding that prevented them from going the distance. In 2012, however - as a panel of experts, gathered together for tv-bay’s BroadcastShow Live in Manchester, were quick to point out - with new city-based and government-backed Local TV services being set-up, things could turn out a little differently “The regulatory framework is much more encouraging this time around,” argued City Broadcasting managing director Philip Reevell who helped to set-up the now defunct Manchester- based station Channel M and is now bidding for a new Local TV licence in the city. “[When we set up Channel M] they were analogue licences, the frequency was not very good, you did not really get an audience and it proved very difficult. [Channel M was] very, very ambitious, had a huge staff and huge programme commitments but was unable to generate the kind of ad revenues that were needed to sustain it.” The latest incarnation of Local TV is different. Industry regulator Ofcom is currently mid-way through the process of awarding licences that will see local programming broadcast to 21 British cities via an independent multiplex operator on a dedicated channel on Freeview. £25 million worth of the BBC’s licence fee has been put aside to pay for the local TV infrastructure and a further £15 million is being made available for content subsidies. Debra Davis of City TV, the company that won the licence to run a station in Birmingham, sees both a financial and cultural benefit to Local TV. “I think this is an important commercial opportunity,” she said. “In the larger cities it is absolutely a business and we have to run it affordably but I also think that this is an opportunity to make a great contribution to public service by helping to shape opinion, behaviours, perceptions, attitudes.” Local TV is about to be reincarnated in the UK thanks to a new government-backed initiative. But, will it work? tv-bay gathered together a panel of experts in Manchester to find out.. Before these licensees can start broadcasting though, they need some content. On the one hand there are groups bidding for several licences that will share content across cities. In other cases there are single-city bidders pitching on the basis of local knowledge. In either case, news provision will be central. “There really is no single [content strategy],” explained Clare Bramley, Head of Local TV Services at Canis Media. “Those single city bidders tend to have very strong local links and will be a great aggregator of hyper local news but every city will have bespoke content with news generally at the heart of it.” To illustrate that variety, Reevell’s Manchester News Channel, should it win, will focus purely on news but others, City TV included, may widen their remit to also produce entertainment, lifestyle and magazine shows plus sport coverage, potentially in conjunction with local indies. As with most new ventures, finding the cash to pay for it will be crucial. Initially, equity investment and what you might loosely call “financial arrangements” 64 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE TV-BAY072DEC12.indd 64 07/12/2012 15:14