Government And BBC Should Support Digital Local News Groups, Not Failing TV

Some ironies are just a little too obvious not to repeat. But here we go -- not only is the government's plan for local television falling apart, it's ignoring the way it could use BBC assets to give the country a digital boost.

Rather than hand out money -- via the BBC -- to local television operators that there is no public demand for, why doesn't it use the BBC's strong local news content to give local media companies a boost?

Johnston Press, Newsquest and Trinity Mirror have all recently released positive digital figures showing massive growth in digital display around local news items and, of course, each company's digital classified operations in the traditional sectors of recruitment, cars, property and dating. Recruitment, in particular, is seeing very strong growth.

These are massive companies that employ tens of thousands of people who are struggling to compete with the BBC in local news as they seek to manage the transition between declining print circulations and growing digital revenues. 

If there is any sector of the media that could use the BBC's support, surely it's our local and regional press rather than local television companies with unfamiliar names that nobody has ever called for?

How would you support local media? Well, it's open to suggestion, but I've already made clear I think the solution would be a licensing deal through which local media companies can use BBC content on their sites -- which they can then advertise against -- so both sides win. The BBC would get licensing revenue, as it does already for television show sales through BBC Worldwide, and local media companies could get access to top quality content at reasonable cost. Whether it is a monthly retainer, a cost per article or a payment per view, these are details which can be worked on.

I've made no secret of the fact I think the plans laid down by former Cultuire Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to roll out local television stations across twenty-one of the country's major tows and cities were always doomed. Using state funding, via the BBC, to pump budget -- GBP15m was the original figure touted -- into services there was no real demand for was a pet project gone mad. Now he's moved to Health, the madness has continued.

Of course people took on a few local tv licences -- why wouldn't you when they're being heavily promoted by the government and come subsidised?

What is the next stage? London Live puts in an appeal to run repeats by reducing the original London current affairs programming it signed up to broadcast and now City TV has gone bust in Birmingham less than three months before it was due to air.

A big question for parliament will be how much state money went in to the collapsed franchise and whether it is recoverable through the reallocation of the licence -- presumably, as with any company closure, there is a line of creditors who may be further up the queue? So aside from the possibility that the state, via the BBC, has funded a television station that never broadcast a second's worth of content, the takeaway is this.

So far local television has either failed or is failing in the country's two biggest cities. London Live has a very good Freeview channel number rival broadcasters would kill for, it's broadcasting to the country's capital and it still can't get viewers -- and so is trying to get permission to run general entertainment it can buy in which people might actually want to watch. Was there demand in Birmingham? We can't tell because City TV gave up the ghost three months ahead of launch.

At the same time, the BBC's state-funded content is proving to be the biggest rival to local media companies who are struggling as they beat an orderly retreat from declining print to growing digital revenues. 

It really doesn't take a genius to see where the government should be focussing the BBC's support, does it?

A failing local television hobby horse or established companies who employ tens of thousands and pay millions in tax.

Seems a very obvious choice to me.

1 comment about "Government And BBC Should Support Digital Local News Groups, Not Failing TV ".
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  1. Chris Johnson from Bay TV Liverpool Ltd, August 14, 2014 at 11:41 a.m.

    The "choice" is not obvious, and in fact is non-existant.

    Why on earth should BBC licence-payers' money be used to subsidise online offerings from companies like Newsquest, Trintity Mirror and Johnston Press?

    Every single news web site in the UK could argue it should be subsidised.

    And it fact is is big groups like TM, which many journalists will agree, have done more to damage the local press than to develop and enhance it. In Liverpool they killed the Daily Post rather than turn it into an attractive product online.

    Newspapers were slow in the take-up of online delivery, mainly driven by a desire to preserve the status quo. The Daily Mail is now turning over more than £30m a year. Should it be subsidised by the BBC?

    Okay, local TV has had a few challenges, notably the failure of the licence-holder in Birmingham to get on air. In London, the jury is out on the programme mix, but their local content is good.

    It is very early days yet for local TV and the other stations on the air have received critical acclaim and are building growing audience numbers.

    Give local TV a chance to grow before you decide whether it is a worthy addition to the media landscape.

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