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."

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
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

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Project Coordinator - 12 month contract

£27000 - £32000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large charity ...

IT Operations Manager - London - £55,000

£50000 - £55000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Relationship M...

Banking Solicitor NQ+

Highly Attractive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NOTTINGHAM - BRILLIANT FIRM - You wil...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past