BSkyB is eyeing a move into local news that would pitch Rupert Murdoch's broadcasting giant into competition with regional newspaper groups such as Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press.
Sky, which broadcasts the US comedy Girls, is trialling a news operation in the Newcastle area that chief executive Jeremy Darroch, below, says could be expanded into other regions if it is successful. The company has recruited eight journalists in the area who are shooting video and writing stories for a new website, Sky Tyne and Wear, which also includes sports updates and an events guide.
"We are constantly trying to reinvent the model and take it on in a way that can deliver better results for customers and make us more resonant across the country," said Mr Darroch. "There is a lot of rich content that is very resonant to the area and occasionally we get access to stories that we can use on a national basis as well," he added, citing recent stormy weather conditions.
Sky's move comes as the local media landscape is changing shape. Companies such as Johnston, owner of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, and Trinity, parent company of The Journal in Newcastle, are trying to transform themselves into digital operations as print advertising comes under sustained pressure.
At the same time, a new generation of local TV channels are being readied for launch after a recent round of licence awards. A new London station is being developed by the London Evening Standard, sister title to The Independent on Sunday.
ITV has won the backing of media regulator Ofcom to make deep cuts in its regional news output in exchange for offering more localised bulletins across England.
Under the proposed terms of its new 10-year broadcasting licence, ITV will be allowed to reduce its regional output, which is mainly news, by 31 per cent to 165 minutes a week. In London, for example, that means the six and-a-half minute lunchtime bulletin will be cut to three minutes and the half-hour London Tonight show will need to contain only 20 minutes of regional news.
To compensate, ITV is promising to increase its number of broadcast regions from seven to 14. Ofcom is consulting on the changes. The regulator said: "We consider it likely that viewers would prefer the restoration of more local services, and that this may be a better trade-off than retaining the status quo."
Mr Darroch likened his Newcastle trial to investments made in recent years in arts and drama, areas that hadn't previously been Sky focal points. "We'll probably run it for another year or so to see where we go, but the idea would be if it is successful that you could start to deliver it on a regional basis," he added.