Channel 6 bidders explain why Local TV will work

Two of the companies bidding to run the UK’s proposed new Local TV network have told Press Gazette why they think culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s much criticised-plan will work.

Today is the closing the date for expressions of interest from companies wishing to run a new network channel bringing together various Local TV services.

The competition for various Local TV franchises will take place from June 2011 with the first licences awarded in summer 2012.

The exact regulation and funding regime for Local TV has yet to be decided but public announcements so far indicate that it will receive £25m start-up funding and then £5m a year taken from the BBC Licence Fee.

Under the plan put forward by Nicholas Shott, the Government would underwrite a contract to sell £15m a year of advertising nationally across the Channel 6 network of Local TV stations.

The first stations are set to be launched in 2014. That is the year when the current ITV licence expires and it could choose to scrap regional news on ITV, which currently employs around 600 editorial staff and is subsidised to the tune of around £50m a year by the network.

Most existing regional media players have expressed scepticism about whether there is enough local advertising to support quality broadcast news at a local level. But not surprisingly the new companies bidding for the Local TV Licences disagree.

Debra Davis is managing director of City TV Broadcasting and hails from Montreal, which has a thriving local TV tradition on cable.

She said: “Our plan is to provide up to six hours per day of live programming in Birmingham and a comparable number of hours in other mid-sized UK markets.

“We are building this plan from the bottom-up, based on what people want in local markets and based on the economics of local advertisers. This model has worked in other jurisdictions and we are confident that we will be successful…

“It is essential that local television is not disguised as regional. City TV will be inclusive and must get to the heart of local…

“Local news is a vital part of the plan. Acquired programming must be relevant to everyday audiences in everyday towns and cities across the UK. Local must be diverse, urban, intelligent, edgy and high quality.”

Richard Horwood is the chief executive of Channel 6, which has also expressed an interest in running the new network channel.

The former Trinity Mirror executive was in charge of that company’s local TV experiment in Birmingham in the 1990s.

Writing in the March edition of Press Gazette magazine he outlined his vision for the new service.

He said: “The Channel 6 approach takes advantage of two things the Government is offering; Mandated front page listing on Freeview, satellite and cable; and a chunk of Freeview capacity released when analogue TV signals are switched off next year.

“So from day one we will be broadcasting on all platforms to the whole country as one of the highest profile national networks.

“With programme genres and a programming budget comparable to the other commercial public service broadcasters [ITV1, Channel 4 and Five], Channel 6 will, like them, attract the large number of viewers UK TV advertisers demand. However Channel 6 will be different in a way that supports local TV.

“The £3 billion national TV advertising market in the UK is extremely healthy, despite a recessionary blip from which it has already bounced back.

“As the pre-eminent mass impact awareness medium, it’s hardly been touched by the internet which has instead devoured classified advertising.

“As a combined national and local broadcaster, Channel 6 will uniquely be able to offer national awareness TV campaigns with tactical local TV up-weights (eg. for local store promotions) sold to the decidedly national buyers, sucking national TV budgets into the local markets.

“Channel 6 will have a network of some 39 local ‘affiliate’ TV stations opting out of the national programming backbone…

“We will commission programming that plays to our combined national and local platforms, providing a massive boost to the independent production sector across the UK.

“Local news and current affairs are obviously important, but we will also broadcast a wide range of other programmes. Imagine what we could do with the X Factor for example, where loads of local material is left on the cutting room floor and only used for a few, highly edited, national programmes.

“Importantly, we will partner with existing local media companies, especially the local press. Newspapers already invest heavily in many of the resources Local TV stations need – newsgathering, premises, administration, ad sales, etc.”

Horwood insists that Trinity Mirror’s short-lived Live TV station – launched in Birmingham in 1995 in partnership with newspapers in the city – did become profitable despite being only available on cable. This proves that his company’s plan for Local TV is viable, he added.

Other Channel 6 bidders are understood to include: the Scottish Television Network, organised by Dr David Rushton; Element Television, which includes former GMG executive from Channel M Caroline Bailes; Inclusive digital, which includes former ITV News editor Nigel Dacre; and Welsh TV production company Tinopolis.

The Department of Culture has said that it should be revealing more information about the confirmed list of final bidders next week.

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