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Keeping It Local

Local TV is being reincarnated in the UK thanks to a new government-backed initiative. But, will it work? Medialease’s Paul Robson is not convinced.


Back in February the owners of the Evening Standard newspaper won the licence to launch one of the UK’s 19 new Local TV services.


Amongst media circles this was big news. London Live will feature millions of pounds worth of original content that will start with news and current affairs before, eventually, moving to lifestyle, entertainment, drama and comedy programming. Backed by a £5m marketing campaign, there’s potential for 18 hours of broadcasting a day plus 33 hyper-local IPTV services, delivering news and information to different areas of the capital. Hundreds of jobs will be created, a new studio will be built and indies will also get the chance to do deals for airtime.


It sounds great. My only concern is that, living as we do in our media bubble, that the broadcast sector is the only winner here.

This latest incarnation of local TV is clearly different from ones we’ve had before. In the late 1990s, and I remember it well, everyone got excited about local TV but it bombed. In 2013 these new channels will be broadcast via an independent multiplex operator on a dedicated channel on Freeview. This alone is better than what we had last time around. £25 million worth of the BBC’s licence fee has been put aside to pay for the infrastructure and a further £15 million is being made available for content subsidies over three years.


But let’s be totally honest about this. Who is going to watch it? And if no one watches it, how is it going to pay for itself? Subsidiaries from Auntie Beeb will only go so far. Attracting advertisers is still going to be crucial. And with potentially small viewing figures, however niche or targeted, most big advertisers will run a mile.


The problem Local TV has now is that viewers have 500 channels to choose from and they’ve got catch-up telly, Youtube, Netflx etc. With so many things grappling for their attention only a few of the 4m London households are going to bother with local TV for more than a few minutes a day.


I love the idea that Local TV will offer “a new voice for local communities, with local perspectives that are directly relevant to them.” But London is a varied and hugely transient population and is all the better for it. Not everyone cares about their locality. Just look at the turnout for recent elections and how local newspaper sales have plummeted.


For me, the success of local TV lies in two things: One, a national advertising network that is intertwined with the local TV content; and two, a solid, accurate way of measuring viewing figures. This will create scale and provide tangible statistics to satisfy big brands.


Without them, local TV is doomed.


Paul Robson is the Managing Director of Medialease, a specialist finance company providing asset funding and finance solutions to the broadcast television and film industries.

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