Is local TV vanity over sanity?

It's early days, but teething problems at London Live don't bode well for Jeremy Hunt's brainchild. By David Benady.

The idea of launching local TV stations across the UK drew wide-spread criticism from the outset. With local papers and radio stations already struggling to attract enough advertising, launching new outlets with even smaller, localised reach seemed for many to fly in the face of reason.

Viewers did not appear to be calling out for more regional programming, and previous local launches proved far from successful. Channel M in Manchester, operated by Guardian Media Group, closed in 2012, while Associated Newspapers’ cable TV Channel One in London folded with little fanfare and multimillion-pound losses in 1998.

But, single-mindedly, the former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt pressed on, convinced that, if local TV could work in the US, then why not in the UK?

Many of the planned 50 local TV channels have still to launch, and last week’s news that the station for the UK’s second city, Birmingham, is in the balance after the licence-holder, City TV, fell into administration will not have encouraged any would-be investors.

The default flagship for the movement has been the London Evening Standard group’s London Live. The size of the capital and the strong heritage of local news at Evgeny Lebedev’s media conglomerate made it an interesting test bed for a high-profile government-subsidised venture.

Now, London Live has already pleaded to Ofcom to cut the hours of peak-time local programmes from three-and-a-half hours to just one hour a day.

John Myers, the former chief executive of GMG Radio, describes the entire enterprise as a "failure". He says: "Local TV is the idea of a political madman and funded by people with too much money. It is vanity over sanity."

Maybe local TV makes more sense in smaller cities. Mustard TV in Norwich put out research in June showing a fifth of viewers in the broadcast area had watched it in the preceding four weeks – some 96,000 people. We await results from Estuary TV in Grimsby and Notts TV in Nottingham. Many more local TV stations are poised to follow.


YES Matthew Heath, chairman and chief strategy officer, Lida

"I support the idea of a broadcast offering that gets closer to individuals, but is ‘local’ enough? There are successful channels around poker but not geography. If there is a way to replace local press, I suspect it is online video, not TV."


MAYBE Siobhan Kenny, chief executive, RadioCentre

"In London, it just hasn’t taken off. The capital is already pretty well-served. In Kent, the savvy KM Group, together with the University of Kent, have the licence. If they think there is mileage in local TV, I am definitely willing to be convinced."


NO Martin Corrigan, broadcast director, MediaCom Leeds

"No, but neither do I believe local TV is viable. I struggle to see how such content can be produced in significant volume to drive a commercial return for any of these new local broadcasters unless regulatory commitments are slashed."


MAYBE Carl Brady, director, Republic of Media, Manchester

"I would say sanity, but it has been a more difficult proposition than we first thought. It has been a real struggle to get information. It has lots of potential; it is just not fulfilling it yet."

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