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UK local TV network plans watered down

Bapun Raz

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The UK government’s much heralded, and much criticised, plans for a spine of local TV stations that would transcend what it perceives is the existing metropolitan bias of TV in the UK, have been shelved. In September 2010, UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt began what he regarded as a bid to realign the nation’s TV industry, slamming the UK’s broadcasting industry for being too centralised. Hunt promised to promote more localised TV concept and gave a green light to plans to drive local TV within the UK, publishing an Action Plan For Local Media. However, in a summary of responses to the Local Media Action Plan by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which Hunt heads, the secretary of state has conceded that a series of individual stations could be more feasible and faster to deliver than launching a local national TV network. Even though he stressed that he had not taken any final decisions, Hunt said that he is now considering a ‘bottom up’ approach of individual licensed stations. In total, DCMS received 140 responses to the action plan including 21 expressions of interest in operating some form of network channel; 43 expressions of interest in providing a range of local services; 5 expressions of interest in providing nations-based for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland; and 71 responses offering comments on the local TV policy proposition more generally. Yet the summary revealed that despite the clear ambition the Conservative government to see the launch of services based outside the main population centres, which tend not to vote for the party, that the economics for local TV were challenging and whilst some expressions of interest agreed with the prospect of the network channel achieving national advertising revenues of £15 million, others believed this was too optimistic and that Local TV would rely more on local advertising revenues. At launch an independent report in December 2010
into the viability of UK local broadcasting warned that only between 10-12 local TV services, broadcasting no more than two hours may be commercially viable. Yet undimmed, Hunt said that the publication of the report saw local TV in the UK one step closer to being a reality. “The Government is committed to localism – putting power in the hands of citizens and neighbourhoods,” Hunt insisted. “Local TV will be a key part of that, giving people the local news and content they want and helping local democracy to flourish.”

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