There are now more channels on our television screens than ever before. In the 1970s there were only three options and they didn’t broadcast 24/7. Now we have literally got hundreds of TV channels from those with broad appeal through to specialist channels. Why then do we need to develop plans for local TV stations?
It has been reported in the past couple of days that former BBC director general Greg Dyke has been appointed to chair a new committee to review the future for local TV services. This is on the back of plans from the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who wants to see the creation of a network of local TV stations similar to those operating in America and France.
But in a world where we have hundreds of channels why would people watch a local TV channel? Also, how will the information be delivered? Who would be responsible for delivering it?
It appears that the reasoning behind the proposals are that there needs to be more open reporting on local issues and a move away from London-centric approaches to public broadcasting. The channel may be provided through using a local TV channel on Freeview, or the Red Button interactive service for local content.
The BBC has already agreed, as part of the new licence fee settlement, that they will provide £25m in 2013/14 and up to £5m from 2014/15 to fund the local media initiatives.
A YouGov poll showed that 31 per cent of people opposed the plans with 29 per cent supporting and 28 per cent undecided. Many people just didn’t see the point of having local stations. Instead they cited BBC and ITV news as good local TV adding that the Internet and local newspapers provided any extra depth in coverage that they may have required.
Yet despite the lukewarm response Mr Hunt still seems to be putting forward the proposal as an opportunity which could be used to scrutinise local politicians and support the ‘big society’ agenda.
I am struggling to see where this may fit with the emerging local media situation. On the one hand, the news is provided by BBC and ITV local reporters and done in a professional and extensive way. And on the other, there are some rapidly emerging hyperlocal websites who easily provide video messages through their own site. If you go to www.saddleworthnews.com they already provide the ultimate in local TV news. I would expect to see other hyperlocal sites and bloggers following this example.
If you can deliver local news this quickly through an integrated website and social media then why create an expensive traditional TV broadcasting based option?
Let us hope that Greg Dyke and his committee consider all the options on local TV news delivery, from an investment in the existing local TV news set up through to supporting hyperlocal sites to develop their video news content.
What is clear in all this is that any local TV station should not merely duplicate existing arrangements and must support the developing citizen journalism without attempting to take over these flourishing hyperlocal sites.
Reports also say that Mr Hunt wants to see the local network in place before the 2012 Olympics. So we can be sure that things will be moving quickly let’s just hope it doesn’t become an expensive experiment.