Think BR: Will we watch local TV?

David Howard, head of planning, Fold 7
David Howard, head of planning, Fold 7

Local TV channels are a big opportunity for brand advertisers, writes David Howard, head of planning, Fold 7.

He may have left the Department of Culture Media and Sport, but Jeremy Hunt’s 'big idea' for local television lives on. To date, Ofcom has awarded half a dozen of the 21 licences for local TV services in towns and cities across the country which it advertised back in May.

Yet while licensing continues apace, two fundamental questions remain: how will it be paid for, and who will watch?

The answer to both these questions must surely lie in just how ‘local’ local TV will be - and just what local means within the content context.

When it comes to defining local content, scale and reach are often seen as the main determining factors. Take local newspaper content. While some is ‘local local’ - news of jumble sales, disgruntled local residents and long-serving lollipop ladies - some is regional with a gravity all of its own.

Yet while both the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer and London Evening Standard undoubtedly each provide a service specific to their own respective locale, I’m not sure many of us would call the Standard a local paper.

Now let’s apply this same thinking to the UK local TV arena.

To date, Ofcom has awarded local licences in a number of smaller localities - Brighton and Grimsby, where just one applicant in each area applied, were the first to be announced. Licences have since been awarded to Birmingham and Bristol while the licences for London, Manchester and Liverpool - the most hotly contested cities - are expected by Christmas.

Irrespective of catchment, the challenge for each will be to find the right balance between narrowcasting and broadcasting. In other words: to be local without being parochial and to be open and accessible without ending up sounding, looking and feeling like any other TV channel elsewhere.

In striking this balance, however, it won’t just be a local TV station’s subject matter that defines its local-ness but tone and feel. And it is in this respect that one of the more interesting opportunities for building audiences - and so, for attracting brand owners - presented by the government’s local TV plans must surely lie.

Is it so strange to think that a Mancunian or a Londoner might like to be spoken to like a Mancunian or a Londoner?

So, if there’s to be programme content that reflects particular local and urban cultures, then why not advertising that does the same?

In recent years the internet has driven new levels of customisation, personalisation and individual choice. Most of us now expect this as a near-divine right, and brand advertisers have been quick to capitalise on the technology’s potential and consumer demand.

In this context, then, the UK’s new local TV channels surely present a fantastic opportunity for creating content that looks and feels like it could only have come from and been created for their particular local audience.

Grasp this opportunity and maybe local TV will herald a brave new era of culturally-tuned brand campaigns.

David Howard, head of planning, Fold 7

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