Hunt's plan to put the local back into TV

The Culture Secretary wants to encourage regional programming but is it economically viable?

Jeremy Hunt is a passionate believer in local media. Yesterday, he outlined proposals to foster a new generation of regional broadcasting in an attempt to help reverse an increasingly "atomised" society. Yet critics complained the plan leaves too many questions unanswered.

The Culture Secretary told members of the Royal Television Society that the TV industry was "deeply, desperately centralised".

He called the regional news broadcasts "token" and said they had been increasingly stretched across vast geographical areas. The Government wants this to change.

"The idea that somehow the UK can't sustain local TV will seem very quaint when compared to other countries," he said. The US has six local channels even in small cities, There are 100 such broadcasters in France and 80 in Sweden.

Mr Hunt outlined his vision as a "landscape of local TV services", which would broadcast for as little as one hour a day.

Industry insiders were sceptical. One said: "Many media companies are very reluctant to embrace the digital era, and now they are being asked to do something where the economics are severely in question."

The Government is to bring forward plans removing the remaining bars governing local cross-media ownership, "paving the way for local newspaper and commercial radio groups to develop new business models that allow them to move freely from platform to platform", he said. He hopes this will create independent broadcasters prepared to focus on local content.

Mr Hunt said he plans to redefine public service broadcasting for the digital age, asking Ofcom how to ensure enough emphasis is given to the delivery of local content. This could see the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 lose their guaranteed position on the first page of the electronic programme guide (EPG), should they fail to do so. Ofcom recently estimated the prominence on the EPG was worth a combined £30m to the public service broadcasters.

"This is likely to become the principle intervention through which we repay broadcasters who invest in content with a social or cultural benefit," Mr Hunt said.

Dan Sabbagh, co-founder of media news website Beehive City, said Mr Hunt's speech left "far too many question marks. It's not an obviously coherent policy." He said that the content provided by a local commercial station was unlikely to sit on the BBC, and the economics would not be viable for Channel 5. "It could do a deal with ITV in return for a favour, such as the EPG, or possibly with Channel 4," he added.

Mr Hunt has torn up the plans implemented by the previous government. Labour said it would lift the burden for regional news on ITV, which could instead be provided by subsidised regional news consortiums. Mr Hunt scrapped it this summer, favouring the US model of city local TV stations instead. He has previously said that Birmingham, Alabama has eight local stations, while Birmingham in the UK, which is larger, "doesn't even have one".

The minister called on the television industry to reinvent itself "and not leave the country behind".

He pointed to 8tv in Catalonia, which is profitable as a standalone commercial operation. LCM in Marseille uses other TV businesses to support its local broadcasting model, while in Sweden four of the six local stations are run by local newspaper groups.

The Government believes up to40 new media companies could emerge across the UK to make local programming.

One media company adviser said: "I find it hard to understand Jeremy Hunt's fixation on local media. He believes in the American model, but local TV hasn't worked in the UK because you don't have massive conglomerations of population to view it. And it is more expensive over here."

Markets including North America and Germany already have widespread cable infrastructure, which keeps costs down for local TV companies. Mr Hunt has also shied away from subsidies such as in Spain and France. The source added that the only way he could see local news working was with user generated content online.

Mr Hunt has called in Nicholas Schott, the head of investment banking for Lazard in the UK, to advise on creating a commercially viable local TV industry. Mr Schott's panel will produce a full report later this year, but several preliminary findings were released yesterday, which asked: "If alternative sources of revenue such as subscription, carriage fees, product placement and sponsored programming can work for national TV, why can't they do so for local stations?"

Mr Schott admitted local television would not work on Freeview in remote regional areas because of the transmission costs and weak advertiser demand. And despite a better chance of success in cities an advertising model "would still be challenging" because of the structural decline in the local and regional ad market.

Mr Schott believed companies should look "exhaustively" at other revenue streams. This could include selling local news content to other broadcasters, as well as corporate sponsorship for local TV, as Barclays have done with London's bicycle scheme. He added that further rules may need to be relaxed. "Having a channel number for local TV, which is common to all such services and which is in a prominent position on the electronic programme guide is highly desirable," Mr Schott said.

Yet some support would still be needed from existing networks, he said. Whether through an existing national channel acting as a "host" or pop-up prompts emerging on public service broadcasters. The panel is also looking at emerging technologies such as mobile platforms and the forthcoming YouView.

Mr Schott concluded that it had been "difficult to see a clear path to commercial viability for local TV," adding more work was needed before the panel could say it was commercially viable.

Mr Sabbagh said: "Nick Schott is saying: 'We barely see this as viable.' He has taken a woolly proposal, which was not financially viable into something that might work. He has injected some realism."

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Financial Analyst - Forecasting - Yorkshire

£300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Financial Analyst, Forecasting, Halifax, Banking,...

Business Architect - Bristol - £500 per day

£500 per day: Orgtel: Business Architect - Banking - Bristol - £500 per day A...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup