Local television success? 

26 March 2005 tbs.pm/438

BBC News – Local TV takes off in Austria

For reasons which have always escaped me, the “holy grail” of television has always been to get as local as possible.

TV enthusiasts are guarenteed to start hyperventilating at the idea of devolving a television channel down to county, town or village level. Broadcasting executives have long said that this is where the future of television lies.

This is arrant nonsense.

Local television is great in theory (after all, if regional television is popular with viewers, then local television must be more so). In practice, local television is always always always dire rubbish.

The problem is money: local television doesn’t have any. Advertisers aren’t interested in it. Viewers soon get bored with it and go back to EastEnders and Corrie. Volunteers who run it have fun but generally no talent, producing programmes that don’t draw in the advertisers, leading to cheaper programming that viewers abandon for the likes of EastEnders, causing advertisers to lose interest even further… a vicious circle if ever there was one.

The only way local television could be made to work, therefore, would be to lavish cash on it. But where would that cash come from? Taxpayers, who already buck at paying for their bins to be emptied and their hospitals to be clean? The licence fee, already too little and resented by many idiots? The advertisers as a public service (yeah, right)?

Telekom Austria has used the lure of local television in order to boost sales of broadband. The service is funded by those increased sales and run by volunteers. Yet, once everyone has broadband, the artificial boost in profits will disappear – and so will the reason for having the local television service. Again, the economics of local television work against it.

What local television does do, however, is undermine regional television.

Regional television is, on all levels, a great idea. It spreads production, talent and money around the country. It discovers new talent and promotes it to national attention. It is good for the economy (having all the wealth in the south east is a Bad Thing, economically and socially speaking). It reaches out to viewers, talking to them in their own accent.

Concentrating your production nationally in London is bad for business, talent and the viewer – although it does temporarily boost the balance sheet. But that temporary boost is important to companies nowadays, so regional production is scrapped in the greatest display of short-term thinking even ITV has ever come up with.

That’s the real reason for scrapping regional television.

The spin, the reason given by spokespeople and management to everyone except the shareholders, is that regional television is not enough: local television is the future.

So the experiments in cheap and nasty local television go on; regional television withers on the vine; and all production moves to London.

In the end, we’re left with London’s view of London, presented by Londoners for Londoners. If we want to know about something closer to home, we have to watch spotty 15 year olds recorded on VHS tape presenting their view of the town centre on a budget of fourpence.

One presumes that Austria doesn’t have this problem with Vienna sweeping all before it. One hopes that Telekom Austria makes a success of their venture.

But one isn’t expecting to be writing about Engerwitzdorf’s Buntes Fernsehen success in a year’s time.

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