Ian Burrell: Local TV with no place for Alan Partridge

Media Studies: It’s extraordinary that for its global profile London doesn’t have a bespoke television network

Ian Burrell
Monday 11 February 2013 01:00 GMT

The cathedral city of Norwich was, during the Middle Ages, the second largest population centre in England – but it has never had a broadcast media to reflect its prestigious past. It was once famed for the Nicholas Parsons game show Sale of the Century, introduced with the memorable phrase "and now, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week…" Its ITV network, Anglia, was symbolised by a tinny knight in armour who appeared less battle-worthy than Don Quixote himself.

Recently it was home to trashy talk show Trisha, but more famously it was associated with the fictional Alan Partridge, who pitched up first on "Radio Norwich" and then last year at "North Norfolk Digital".

So Mustard TV – "the local television channel with a strong Norwich flavour" – will have to work hard not to be seen as a pastiche. In fact, it is one of the most distinct offerings among the licences so far approved by Ofcom to meet the shortcomings of the BBC and ITV in serving local audiences.

Run by Archant, a regional newspaper group (with historical ties to the Colman mustard family), the TV station will rely on an existing 140-strong editorial team. A flagship nightly 45-minute magazine programme The Mustard Show will allow viewers to question local politicians. There'll be a What's On guide and tips on how to do "Norwich on a Shoestring". A regular feature, Heroes and Villains, will assist the Norfolk Constabulary in solving crime while applauding citizens who make a positive contribution to local life.

The so-called local television revolution has been a while coming – considering the Government identified it as a priority and former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a viability study within a month of the 2010 election. By the end of this year the first services are expected to be on the air.

Ofcom has approved licences in 15 British cities from Belfast to Brighton & Hove. Another four are in the offing, including one for Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Leeds, for which Leeds United FC is among the bidding teams.

Birmingham's City TV will schedule coverage of latest research from its universities and industries to highlight its traditions for invention.

That's Oxford will draw on some heavyweight television experience, including Esther Rantzen (and her daughter Rebecca Wilcox), Jim Rosenthal and the investigative journalist David Jessel for what it promises will be a "world-class" service. That's Oxford (backed by the Blackwell publishing company) promises a specialist politics show and outside broadcasts from events such as The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival and high-profile lectures at the university.

Most new stations are citywide, although That's Solent (which Rantzen is also involved with) embraces Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. But of all the licences, the most exciting is the London one. It's extraordinary that, for all its global profile, it doesn't have a bespoke TV network. That will change with the launch by Evening Standard TV of London Live, which could be on air before the end of the year. Interactivity is at the heart of this offering, with an iNews service designed to be accessed on "every possible screen", meaning tablet and mobile, and integrating comments via Twitter, Facebook and text.

London Live will have 33 internet-based streams of hyper local news for each of the capital's 33 boroughs. The project is able to draw on the editorial resources of the London Evening Standard, which will host its studios, and The Independent and i newspapers. The schedule will enjoy prominence in the TV listings of the 700,000-circulation Standard, and the paper will turn its 400 newspaper drop-points into interactive hubs for publicising London Live's output.

The ESTV bid suggested that sports journalist Mihir Bose, food critic Charles Campion and investigative reporter David Cohen could be part of the presenting team. The Standard has ties with key partners such as Transport for London, train companies and the outdoor advertising specialist JC Decaux, which offer video platforms.

Although cynics are doubtful that the new stations will generate advertising revenues in an already squeezed market, there are fresh opportunities here, especially for established print media businesses, to provide media agencies with the multi-platform campaigns they increasingly demand.

And the shows could be better than that previously associated with local telly. Sheffield's SLTV no doubt spoke for this new sector when it said in its successful licence bid that this will "not be a channel packed with 'worthy but dull' community programmes".

Twitter: @iburrell

The station controller who turned historian

Having performed wonders in giving female historians like Mary Beard, Lucy Worsley and Amanda Vickery the chance to get in front of the TV cameras, Janice Hadlow, controller of BBC2, could be heading down the same path.

First of all, she must make her name as an author. A Royal Experiment, the result of her long-standing fascination with Georgian England, is the fruit of eight years of research and will be published by Harper Collins in the autumn.

Exploring mad King George III's failed attempts to create a harmonious family, the work is described in the publisher's blurb as being "written with astonishing emotional force from a stunning new history writer".

In other news on extra-curricular activities, Guto Harri, the director of communications at News International, is taking his show on the road. The spinner will be discussing "his career in media and shaping the media" at the Celtic Media Festival in Swansea in April. Welsh-speaking Harri will deliver his address in English, rather than in his native tongue, something he may live to regret given Rupert Murdoch's recent and angry micro-management of NI.

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