Ian Burrell: This revolution will be televised, and it's starting in Grimsby

Media Studies

Ian Burrell@iburrell
Monday 19 August 2013 00:05

Aside from giving its name to a little-known track on the 1974 Elton John album Caribou and being an austere setting for the film This Is England, Grimsby has had an inauspicious role in the evolution of British media. So the town best known as a centre of the fish trade makes an unlikely location for a television revolution.

Nonetheless, when Lincolnshire Living goes live in November it will be a genuinely game-changing moment in broadcasting. Britain has never really done local television. Our national broadcasters, quite rightly, enjoy an international reputation, particularly for some of their news and current affairs output. But "regional" journalism – often awkwardly focused on broad geographic swathes spanning places with disparate cultures – is about as local as we've had. Until now.

Starting with Grimsby, continuing with another 18 channels next year, and then up to 30 more beyond that, local TV is coming to places from Birmingham to Mold, the north Wales town with a population of less than 10,000. So far, the public knows little about all this, but on Thursday, the Local TV Network (LTVN) will begin an awareness campaign, including the launch of a website which will act as a signpost to the diverse channels and eventually showcase content from around Britain.

Doubts have been expressed as to whether viewers really want local television – even if they assure pollsters that they do. And the idea was widely seen as a pet project of the former Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (it is clearly not a priority for his successor, Maria Miller).

But being associated with Mr Hunt wasn't always helpful and the scheme has now found a momentum of its own. Crucially, the chances of its success are greatly increased by the commercial advantages it has been given over the rest of the market.

Television advertising is rigidly controlled. Public service broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4 are allowed only seven minutes of commercials per hour (a bone of contention, especially for ITV) and other channels are permitted nine. But the new local channels will not be subject to any restrictions on advertising "minutage".

Of course no broadcaster is going to show continual advertising – even Maurice Saatchi would be bored by that. But this removal of the regulations will open up the possibility of advertorial programmes that are an hour long. According to Nigel Dacre, the former editor of ITV News who now runs the LTVN, such "advert-based programming" is an opportunity to tap into the marketing budgets of organisations that have previously shunned television as an advertising medium. "From big local attractions and theatres to estate agents and big shopping centres, none of them traditionally advertise on TV," he said.

Property advertising, once a crucial revenue source for print media and now largely migrated to the internet, is a potential treasure chest, says Dacre, who is part of the Notts TV consortium in Nottingham. "We could run an hour-long property programme with classified property advertising that's really watchable and interesting. That's something you couldn't do before."

His idea of "a couple of local colourful estate agents talking through the property" wouldn't have everybody settling down on the sofa, ready to dual-screen their observations to social media. But there is no doubting the modern appetite for TV property shows such as those hosted by Sarah Beeny of Channel 4 or the BBC's Cherry Healey.

Of course advertisers will only be interested in these channels if they have an audience. But whereas previous broadcasting experiments of this type have been banished to the television equivalent of the Mongolian steppes, these networks are to be positioned at Channel 8 on the electronic programme guide, just beneath the traditional terrestrial stations.

The range of offerings is enormous. London Live (run by ESTV, which is owned by Evgeny Lebedev, who also owns The Independent and i) will not be a local channel at all, reflecting the difference between a global city and a provincial one like Norwich (represented by the wonderfully-named channel Mustard).

These services will also have an impact because by next year they will be putting more than 100 professional video-journalists on to the streets every day, changing the face of broadcast news.

"It is actually happening," says Dacre, who will be making a presentation to the Edinburgh Television Festival this week and is understandably excited. But so should we all be.

Spacey's Edinburgh outing puts down online marker

Kevin Spacey's success with Netflix's House of Cards has aroused envy from television traditionalists who don't like the fact that the show bypassed the big networks and streamed online. The series is up for nine Emmy awards and Spacey – shortlisted as outstanding lead actor in a drama series – was confronted over the issue by satirical presenter Stephen Colbert. "Why should you get an award for TV when you're not on TV? What do you want next, the Heisman?" he asked, referring to an American football award.

Spacey, who responded to the taunt by grabbing Colbert's own Emmy from a mantelpiece and running round the studio, is in Edinburgh this week to deliver the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture to the British television industry. Having a Hollywood star at the lectern is new territory for the Edinburgh Television Festival and Spacey's presence is a sign of where this medium is headed.

'The Sun' goes for a clean sweep with PCC man

The appointment of ex-director of the Press Complaints Commission Stephen "Stig" Abell as managing director of The Sun was a surprise. It's part of a repositioning of the paper under new editor David Dinsmore, who has been on a charm offensive. The Glaswegian announced his arrival in June with a wraparound "This is Our Britain" cover and an editorial challenging the idea that the red-top is anti-immigration. His bigger task is to make The Sun's digital paywall a success and the eyes of News Corp executives around the world are upon him. He will hope that his new managing editor – a popular figure with some of the paper's biggest critics in Fleet Street – can help the title to keep its nose clean. But never having been a journo, the former PCC man faces a tough job persuading those in the paper's newsroom that he has not arrived to make their lives even harder.


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