I think it’s fair to say that DCMS’s plans for Local TV are mostly terrible.
Luckily, people who know a lot more about it that I do are writing it all up. I enjoyed these three posts on the LSE blog on the subject, all by Sally Broughton Micova.
They are well worth reading for anyone interested in local media.
The DCMS’s framework document states that “market experience suggests that small standalone local TV stations can struggle to develop s sustainable business model”. However, the Government’s plan is to issue individual local licenses and then leave it up to the market to determine if local stations give it a go alone or come together in a network. This means anyone interested in opening local television and broadcasting through DTT in Birmingham will have to individually negotiate with whoever might be interested in Hereford, Grimsby, or any of the other 60 plus locations. News Corporation, which owns a large number of local TV stations in the US and controls two of those in Birmingham Alabama, has other problems at the moment, so it seems unlikely it will be interested in applying for a multitude of individual local licenses in the UK. It is not clear how a backbone of sufficient size and capacity to adequately support local TV across the UK will spontaneously emerge from the negotiations of a few enthusiastic local parties.
One of the ways the Government’s plan intends to provide financial support to local TV is by having the BBC spend up to £5 million annually for 3 years to buy content from local stations. At the local TV summit Hunt also suggested that local TV will be selling content to other national stations. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, £5 million divided among several stations will amount to very little in relation to the budgets required to make high quality content. Secondly, local stations will have to produce content that national stations will want to buy. Consider the plea from Shameless’ Paul Abbott for British producers and commissioners to try making television drama at a cheaper cost of only £500,000 per episode. Or, that national stations in the UK are currently spending their budgets procuring high quality production from independent producers and hit series from the US.
The proposal, to use the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform and create linear television stations across the UK, is already old fashioned enough. It is admirable to invest in local media, but new technology allows more innovative and more sustainable ways of doing it. Putting local TV onto DTT multiplexes (MUXs), even in a first stage as the Government proposes, is an unnecessary investment, and one that sets local television off on the wrong foot in terms of both sustainability and purpose.