Has the time come for local TV?

Posted on 11 January 2011

Greg Dyke, Chancellor of York University and a former Director-General of the BBC, argues that the time has come to set up local TV in the UK.

Next week the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce whether or not the Government will press ahead with proposals for local television across Britain. Last night (Monday 10th January 2011) Greg Dyke, Chairman of the Local Television Advisory Committee urged the Secretary of State to ‘bite the bullet’ and kick start the process which could see 80 local television services licensed within two years.

Greg said he had one message for Jeremy Hunt: be brave.

There is an audience; there is the technology to make it work; and there is an advertising market.

Greg pointed out local TV was Hunt's idea, and that the Shott report into its viability had recommended going ahead. Shott suggested that local TV should have a channel on Freeview; and that it would work best in large conurbations such as Manchester or Birmingham. Greg agreed with the first point, but disagreed with the second. In his view, local TV will work best in smaller catchment areas - such as York, with a population of around 200,000 and another 200,000 living in the surrounding countryside. He pointed out that ITV, which was originally set up as a federation of regional companies, found that the smaller the catchment area, the more the audience watched the regional programming. For example, Border TV, with a catchment area of around 400,000 - about the same as York - achieved a much larger audience share for its regional programmes than the larger companies.

So there's clearly an audience for very local TV. But how will be funded? Greg suggested that what's needed is a "bonfire of the regulations", particularly the rules on cross-ownership of media. The obvious people to be involved n a local TV station are the local and regional press, but at the moment they are forbidden from owning more than a share of broadcasting and press outlets in their area.

The advertising, sponsorship and product placement regulations will also need relaxing. Greg envisioned a broadcast with a split screen, with ads running one side while the programme content is transmitted on the other. At the moment the cost of TV advertising is too high, and you're often paying for a larger audience than you need. But local ads work well in the US - used car salesmen pop up on every local station, touting their wares.

Greg then talked about the cost of production. He pointed out that with modern technology and a multi-skilled workforce, it's possible to bring down the cost of creating an hour of television to a reasonable level. Local TV would create thousands of jobs, not least for the students currently studying in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television.

Finally Greg made the argument that local TV will not only be good for the economy, it will also be essential for democracy.  The regional press is struggling; newspapers are going of business; no new journalists are being trained. By combining with local TV stations, and getting the journalists to work cross-platform, the businesses could become viable again. And so there will be local journalism to hold local politicians, councils and businesses to account.

This is the full text of Greg's speech: Greg Dyke's Local TV Speech (MS Word , 66kb)

Greg was introduced by the University of York's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Cantor, and the evening was rounded off by Professor Sir Ron Cooke - the previous Vice-Chancellor.

The event was held in the University of York's flagship new building for the Department of Theatre, Film and Television. The complex includes two broadcast studios, a 200 seat theatre, a 150 seat cinema and screening room, and cutting edge post-production facilities, and is the best equipped facility of its kind in the North East of England.