Here is the full text of the keynote speech, given by Inclusive's CEO Nigel Dacre on the 21st April 2015 at the Westminster Media Forum seminar on local media. Nigel is also the former Chair of the Local TV Network and is a director of Notts TV.
"Local TV - the story so far, and opportunities and challenges for the future"
This is actually an excellent time to review how the Government’s Local TV initiative is developing in the UK.
5 years since Jeremy Hunt first proposed the idea.
4 years since the necessary legislation went through parliament.
Nearly a year and a half since the first Local TV channel actually launched.
And a few weeks before a new Government will come in – a Government that, if it chooses to, could take a fresh look at how the roll out of Local TV in the UK is progressing.
It’s also a good time for me to take stock of Local TV’s progress.
Last month I finished a 2 year stint as the first Chair of the Local TV Network, the LTVN. The new Chair is Chris Johnson from Bay TV Liverpool – who is also here today.
As I am no longer the Chair of the LTVN, I would like to stress that today’s comments are my own personal views and opinions.
Well, one way or another I have been involved with local media for a long time.
My company Inclusive Digital has been closely linked with Local TV. We were contracted by Ten Alps in 2007 to oversee Kent TV. We acted as consultants to the PA, Trinity Mirror and Ten Alps in their bid in 2010 to get IFNC funding for news in the North East.
And our subsidiary Local Digital News, which I set up with my colleague Steve Perkins, is part of the consortium that in 2012 won the licence to run Notts TV in Nottingham.
Furthermore, for me personally, local journalism has been an integral part of my career – since the days when I was a BBC News Trainee, doing attachments at Midlands Today in Birmingham and Scene Around Six in Belfast, and then as a regional journalist at Points West in Bristol.
Partly influenced by this background, cross-platform local TV is something I really believe in.
And I stress that I am talking here about cross or multi-platform Local TV – online, on mobiles, on satellite and cable, as well as on Freeview.
I’m not just talking about Local TV on Freeview.
So I believe:
- that people want to view videos and TV programmes about local events, issues and developments;
- that there are media policy benefits, with local TV contributing significantly to the strengthening of local media plurality;
- that there are commercial advantages for local businesses to advertise on local TV channels;
- and that local TV channels provide training and career development opportunities, as well as being an innovative test bed for new technology, new formats and new ways of working.
However, Local TV is a new market and sector. So I also believe that to succeed, the Local TV sector needs further targeted policy initiatives as the roll-out of channels continues.
But first let’s look at the facts...
Jeremy Hunt’s original plan was to kick start Local TV by securing a prominent Freeview EPG position for local channels – and re-directing £40m worth of unspent BBC digital switchover funds to Local TV. Ofcom were given the job of issuing the licences for the channels, inviting organisations to apply via an open tender process.
So far, Local TV channels have launched in 17 towns and cities - in places like Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Grimsby, London, Newcastle, and Nottingham.
In what they call Phase Two, Ofcom has so far licenced channels in a further 14 towns and cities, which are due to launch in the coming two years: in places like Aberdeen, Cambridge, Middlesbrough, Reading, Swansea, and York.
In total, then, 33 licenses have been issued – of which, as I say, 17 channels have so far launched. By the end of 2015, the launch figure should be well over 20 channels.
But it’s important to remember that Local TV is a ground-up, fragmented sector. There are actually 15 different organisations controlling the 33 licences issued so far. These range from large well-funded media companies like STV, to much smaller community-based channels in places like Sheffield and Belfast.
As we heard earlier, these organisations include a number of newspaper groups – such as, Archant in Norwich, Kent Messenger Group in Maidstone, and the Evening Standard in London.
This fragmentation means that it’s difficult to generalise about the channels, and there are a number of different business models and programme structures operating within the sector.
Local news, though, is an important part of all channel schedules – and all channels have had to commit to a level of local news output as part of their licence.
Beyond news, channels have developed a wide range of new programme formats. Amongst these it’s local magazine-style programmes that are getting a particularly good response from viewers – such as The Mustard Show in Norwich, The 6.30 Show in Nottingham, the Riverside Show in Glasgow, and Talking Sheffield. Actually, it’s no surprise that these magazine shows are doing well. Night after night, week in week out, these magazine programmes are interviewing local people, in a local studio, about local stories and events.
And the new Local TV channels have also created many new jobs: we estimate that over 300 new full time jobs have been created in the Local TV sector in the last year, as well as a large number of freelance opportunities and local production company commissions. As well as real jobs, the majority of channels also have some kind of relationship with their local media or broadcast journalism courses in colleges or universities – providing students with unprecedented levels of real training and real experience.
As for other key developments affecting Local TV...
Well, the Local TV Network, the LTVN, is now well established, and has been operating for over three years. The LTVN is the association that represents the Local TV licensees, and is involved in various initiatives, such as encouraging content sharing between channels.
Last year, the LTVN selected a network sales agency - and a network commercial break, measured by BARB, is due to launch during the next month or so. 14 of the on-air channels plan to take part in the network break – with the exception of London, Birmingham and Norwich.
In terms of ratings, we wait for the first network Barb figures. We are being calmly realistic as to what they will show – all new media services take time to grow, and these are very early days for Local TV. But local audience research carried out by some of the channels has been positive. The four Made TV channels, for instance, in Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Newcastle, are, according to their own research, averaging a 13% reach across each of their stations. You can see the details of this research, and the research carried out for other channels, like Notts TV, Mustard TV and STV, on the LTVN website.
And I’m pleased to say that there’s a lot of encouraging evidence that the local TV advertising market, from a standing start, is now also growing.
So, overall, across the board: there has been considerable progress in the rollout of Local TV in the UK - far more, I suspect, than many in the industry or possibly even in this room thought possible.
Despite scepticism shown by some observers, as I said, 17 channels are now on air, broadcasting daily schedules, packed with local programmes.
However, it is also important to acknowledge that the newly emerging Local TV sector is also facing challenges.
Again, it’s difficult to generalise. The channels in Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example, which can draw on the technical infrastructure, marketing support and archive of STV, are in a different position to a channel that is a complete start-up.
But many channels are facing similar issues.
We all know, and it’s saying the obvious, that growing audiences for any new type of TV is tough when viewers have so much else to watch.
We also know that some organisations faced difficulties securing launch funding.
And building up revenues was always going to be hard work, when many of the companies and organisations that we are selling to have never advertised on TV before.
So looking to the future, I am sure we will see a certain amount of what I call churn and evolution in the sector, as some business models prove more successful than others.
But despite these words of caution, I still think there’s a lot to be positive about. Yes, some organisations may have funding problems at some stage in the future or may seek to merge with another organisation, or whatever – but I have no doubt that at the same time other channels that have launched will go on to become sustainable businesses.
So what impact does this have on policy issues, particularly for the Ofcom, DCMS and the new Government? I think the policy approach as we go forward needs to be informed by 3 key drivers:
Firstly, like it or not, whatever you think about the original Jeremy Hunt plan, Local TV is now a reality. It’s happened. It’s a fact of life – a part of the UK media landscape. It may change and evolve; but, in my view, it’s not going away.
Secondly, Local TV brings with it significant benefits (which I’ve listed earlier) – such as encouraging community engagement, strengthening local democracy, developing new programme formats, creating jobs and training, and boosting media plurality.
But thirdly, Local TV is still at an early stage of its development, and the sector is facing challenges as it grows and develops.
So given these three drivers, I would argue that the new Government should urgently consider how the Local TV sector can be further supported.
Not with extra money. I’m not talking about hand-outs or subsidies.
But to look at things like:
- More clearly defining Local TV’s PSB status.
- Sorting out the channel’s Freeview EPG number in Scotland and Wales.
- Getting easier and lower cost access to Sky.
- Making sure that a continuation of some kind of content exchange funding with the BBC is considered in the Charter-renewal negotiations.
- Reviewing how flexible Ofcom should be or can be in the interpretation of Local TV licence requirements.
- Setting up a proper evaluation system, so that we can measure the impact of Local TV.
- And asking whether the sector would benefit from more central co-ordination.
Let’s not forget, the current Local TV project was a Government initiative, and has involved the expenditure of millions of pounds of both public and private money. So I think it’s only right and proper that the new Government comes in and looks at how this important initiative can be further developed.
In conclusion, then:
I think that Local TV has already brought and is bringing a lot of benefits – to viewers, local communities and the UK media sector as a whole.
Furthermore, there are lot of really encouraging signs for the Local TV sector – with steadily growing audience numbers and increasing revenues.
But Local TV is still in its early stages of growth, and I think we need to carefully reflect on how we can further support the development of the sector.