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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
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

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot