Local television is now up and running in several parts of the UK and as someone who was involved with the medium in Australia I was interested to find out more. The idea for hyper-local services, giving a voice and a platform to individual communities was first touted in 2011 by the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
This concept is nothing new of course; there have been several attempts in the past to launch local terrestrial TV channels in the UK with varying degrees of success. Public access television has been going strong in the USA since the late 1960s and some years ago I was involved with CTV1 community television in Australia where we broadcast to residents in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney.
Over in Australia the government have decided that community/local television should be taken off the goggle box and given a new home on the internet, but here in the UK £25 million of BBC licence fee money has been made available to help build the necessary broadcast infrastructure.
According to the website of the media regulator Ofcom, thirty licences have been awarded so far to local broadcasters although many of them are yet to launch and more are expected to apply. It is also predicted that not all will survive given the fierce competition to attract viewers by the myriad of digital channels and the inevitable fight for advertising revenue with local radio stations and newspapers.
To survive these local TV channels which can be found on Freeview channel 8 in England and Northern Ireland, and on channel 23 in Scotland and Wales, will need to offer comprehensive hyper-local news, whilst also providing entertainment not available on other channels whether that be original or archival content.
One early casualty has been City TV in Birmingham which went into administration without broadcasting any programmes. Ofcom have agreed to transfer the licence to Kaleidoscope TV on the understanding that they launch by 28th February and that they provide 41 hours of new local programmes each week. This venture sounds very encouraging as it’s backed by former ATV presenter Mike Prince and Chris Perry who runs a highly respected voluntary organisation preserving and researching vintage television. Many viewers are hopeful that programmes from the rich ATV archive will now feature in the new channels broadcast schedule.
I was recently invited into the studios of That’s Solent who have been awarded the licence to broadcast to Portsmouth, Southampton and the surrounding areas.
I was extremely impressed with the state of the art studio facilities at Highbury College in Cosham, with the high quality local news service and with the professional standard of both the presenters and the crew. The channels commitment to train new talent is also something which has been long overdue in this country, getting into the television industry has never been easy and now newcomers have the chance to learn their craft in a real live broadcast environment.
The That’s TV group are the UK’s largest local TV licence operator, a new channel will hit the airwaves in Oxford shortly and similar services will then be rolled out in Salisbury, Basingstoke, Reading and Surrey.
I predict a bright future for this company; the team behind the venture certainly have the experience to make a success of it. Daniel Cass, the managing director of the group, is probably the most experienced operator of local television in the UK. He was involved with local analogue broadcasting for over ten years overseeing Six TV in Oxford amongst other stations. Meanwhile veteran broadcaster Esther Rantzen is the groups Vice President of Programming and will be one of the faces of the station.
If other local broadcasters can achieve the same quality threshold as That’s TV they will thrive as something fresh is certainly needed in an era when we have countless digital channels but in reality have less choice because they all seem to be carbon copies of each other offering virtually identical output.
London Live are servicing the capital and provide plenty of local news and documentaries, they brought the Miss World extravaganza back to Londoners in 2014, and have also dusted off the drama series London’s Burning and the sitcom The New Statesman. Ofcom recently agreed to reduce the amount of original local programming output they are required to air much to the annoyance of some commercial broadcasters but it has to be noted that a new venture such as this was never going to be straightforward or easy. Attracting viewers and advertising revenue was never going to happen overnight.
Amongst the other channels already up and running are NvTv in Belfast who previously operated an analogue service prior to the move to digital. Latest TV cover the Brighton and Hove area and have made a name for themselves covering the areas rich arts scene. In Grimsby, Estuary TV cover large parts of East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, they have brought British wresting back to television with a new show called BWC Wrestling.
In Scotland several local TV licences have been awarded to STV who already run the main ITV commercial station for most of Scotland. This new platform will complement the organisations existing services and will offer students the chance to work and learn in a live broadcast environment. STV Glasgow offers new output as well as STV archive classics such as the soap opera Take the High Road. STV Edinburgh is due to launch shortly.
Also beaming signals to local folk are Bay TV in Liverpool who have been operating online since 2011 and who can now reach 930,000 homes across Merseyside via digital television. Made in Bristol and Made in Cardiff are off the starting block, whilst Mustard TV in Norwich are offering extensive local coverage and some magnificent footage courtesy of the East Anglian Film Archive. Ey up, Notts TV is all systems go in Nottingham along with Made in Leeds, Made in Tyne & Wear in Newcastle, and Sheffield Live are offering a diverse mix of news and coverage of the local music scene.
As someone who has been involved with community/local television in Australia I would like to close with a few words of advice for current and future local TV broadcasters in the UK. Engage with your audience – encourage volunteers both young and old to come into the studio to learn the skills required to work both behind and in front of the camera. Some will be looking for a career in the media; others will just find the experience a fun hobby. Local TV should be a platform for all, especially for voices that are ignored by the mainstream media, and having a slot on Freeview isn’t enough these days- a live feed via your website, video on demand services and interaction via social media sites such as Facebook is imperative.
These are exciting times for viewers and for those wishing to break into television production. As the veteran Australian community TV presenter/producer Joy Hruby always says, “It’s much more fun making television than watching it.” So please support your new local broadcaster, if you are lucky enough to have one, it’s your channel, and it will be the voice of your community. Why not get yourself involved and become part of this exciting new scene!
Darren Gray was a star of CTV1 in Australia. Here he is at the channels 25th anniversary reunion in Sydney recently. From left are Darren, special guest Clover Moore MP- Lord Mayor of Sydney, CTV1 director Doug Moody, and veteran presenter Joy Hruby.
Other photos: Top of page: Daniel Cass, managing director of That’s TV in the That’s Solent studio. Middle Left: The That’s TV broadcast area. Copyright That’s TV. Middle Right: Regional Station Logos. Copyright the respective broadcaster.