Local TV – “a bigger programme budget than Channel 5” 

16 February 2011 tbs.pm/1245

Every time I hear anything about Jeremy Hunt’s plans for a new local TV network, I have this tendency to roll my eyes and sigh. His dream of a network of local TV stations, broadcasting to cities and regions sounds all very grand and good – and desirable. Yet Mr Hunt seems oblivious to the fact that it almost inevitably seems dooned to faliure. Local TV has never worked in Britain.

There have been attempts. L!ve TV may have ended as a national joke watch by next to no one watching, but the original idea of it was as a national spine to a network of city stations broadcast on cable television. Local stations were set up in Birmingham, Liverpool and Westminster.

Around the same time, the Daily Mail group started Channel One with operations in London, Bristol and Liverpool once more.

Slightly longer lasting was Swindon Cable which managed to provide a local channel for 16 years until closed down by NTL in 2000.

There was Six TV broadcasting to Southampton, Reading and Portsmouth, one of many attempts to run local TV services on analogue, which also included Solent TV on the Isle of Wight. Even ITV got in on the act with a web based local service that abruptly ended in 2009.

What each of them have in common is that they all ultimately failed. You could claim that they each had their own factors for demise – potential audience size being too small, distribution on platforms few had, whatever. But there’s no denial that each one has failed.

Indeed there is, right now, only one local TV service in Britain. It’s Channel M in Manchester and the station made most of its staff redundant in March 2010 after its owners, the Guardian Media Group, sold its regional newspaper division. Since then it’s been essentially mothballed, showing little more than repeats and free content (although GMG has announced plans to try and relaunch the station.)

With not a single success story to the local TV arrow, it’s hard not to view Jeremy Hunt’s plans as laughably naïve wishful thinking at best.

But hey, don’t worry because there may be a saviour after all. A new company wants to run a national network to underpin the local TV stations. Channel 6’s boss is already claiming it will “have a bigger programme budget than Channel 5 and we will be spending roughly the same amount per viewer as BBC2” in an article in the Guardian (those figured being £135m and 7.7p an hour respectively.)

Some may say that local TV’s time has come. Others like me may look at the money poured in to it in the past and the huge success stories that have happened as a result, and wonder

You Say

4 responses to this article

Richard Logue 16 February 2011 at 2:42 pm

I disagree with you – look at the funding – local TV failed because it was on a shoestring budget and on a shoestring budget no channel is ever going to make programmes the mass audience will want to watch.

If the reports of the funding levels are indeed true then we can expect the new channel to be a serious contender to the established networks.

Don’t forget now that ITV is in the process of ditching it’s regional programming and turning into a single national channel, the Sixth network will effectively take ITV’s place.

Andrew Bowden 16 February 2011 at 2:54 pm

Call me sceptical but I just don’t get where this money is going to come from, given the Channel 6 is completely unknown and without major backers.

Channel 5 was the last attempt to take on the big channels, and they barely made an impact. Channel 6 may be promising a bigger budget than 5, however 5’s budget has been slashed over the years. Even before that it struggled to make an impact.

David Hastings 17 February 2011 at 9:36 pm

Ironically TV12, which was the original local TV station covering the Isle of Wight (and parts of the mainland, albeit unofficially) lost its franchise for a reason which I haven’t been able to discover yet (perhaps overreaching itself?), only to be replaced by not-for-profit Solent TV which eventually ceased broadcasting for financial reasons. Solent TV’s news service in particular grew into something very professional that was praised by Meridian ITV but even this still didn’t help them to survive.

Manchester’s Channel M currently limps along on digital terrestrial broadcasting in the Greater Manchester area, still showing nothing but repeats to my knowledge although there are/were plans to reintroduce new programming (I’ll believe that when I see it!); there were originally two additional channels on the local multiplex with one of them (“Manchester Dating”) just featuring adverts for people seeking partners, but the second (“Mcr Shopping”, which turned out to be a JML infomercial channel) appears to have now closed.

If JML of all things can’t afford to run a local channel serving Greater Manchester – even if it’s just a loop of ‘infomercials’ – then local television of ANY description is probably doomed in the long term, full stop, although Six TV to my knowledge is still managing to broadcast in the Oxford, Portsmouth and Southampton areas.

Chad Henshaw 26 February 2011 at 1:56 am

Every time I hear plans for “local TV” I think didn’t Britain used to have that? Why not instead take the rod to ITV and have them do their job properly?

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