4th April 2014

A Regional TV Renaissance?

By Michael Wood on Friday April 4, 2014

This week saw the launch of London Live, a brand new television channel broadcasting news, current affairs, sports, arts, events and entertainment all, as the name suggests, local to our nation’s capital.

I first heard the news on BBC Breakfast as I was wrestling with the cat to stop him sticking his head in my morning bowl of cereal, and it caught me somewhat by surprise (Ginny took advantage of my lapse in concentration, of course, the sneaky thing).

Having family members who have worked for years in local television, I have been witness to its decline in audience numbers and funding over the last decade or so, just like local newspapers, something I have always found rather sad.

But could the new channel be sign of a renaissance?

Over the years, many American-style local TV stations have come and gone in the UK. Maybe you remember L!VE TV from the mid-1990s, famed for its weather forecasters wearing, for want of a better word, fancy dress? Or Channel M, Manchester’s ill-fated channel, which came to a sad end in 2012? Time and again, they have been killed off by low ratings and a lack of vital advertising revenue.

But this hasn’t stopped the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and TV regulator Ofcom from placing a renewed focus on local TV. Ofcom announced in 2012 its decision to begin awarding licences for operators to broadcast locally. So far, 19 have won the right to broadcast in 21 areas across the UK, and Ofcom is inviting bids to operate services in a further 30. This explosion has been made possible, perhaps, by the popularity of Freeview and satellite TV services nationwide.

London Live is a part of this new wave of hyper-local TV, but it is not the first new station to make its debut on the UK airwaves in the last twelve months. Estuary TV began broadcasting, without quite so much fanfare, in the Grimsby area in November 2013, and Mustard TV has won the licence to transmit in and around Norwich.

This is all highly exciting, representing, as it does, a chance for the UK’s cultural life to shake off some of the Londoncentrism it has been afflicted with for the last few years. It is an opportunity for Brits out in the regions to reconnect with their local neighbourhoods in a way only Londoners have, until now, been able to (as a former Londoner myself, I still find myself gesturing excitedly at the screen whenever I catch a glimpse of my old flat, or one of my former haunts in the background of a BBC drama).

For businesses large and small, this revival brings new opportunities for advertising and public relations (PR) targeted at specific, hyper-local audiences. This, of course, can help maximise the impact of a business’s PR or marketing campaign by reaching out only to the members of the public most likely to use their services.

Consumers too can get a better idea of the products and services available in their neighbourhood, encouraging them to buy locally and support nearby small businesses. Rather than travelling a great distance to buy a generic sofa from an outlet of a multinational furniture company, for example, they can get a high-quality bespoke one from a small manufacturer operating just around the corner.

To avoid the fate of their predecessors, though, it is vital that this new wave of local TV channels draws in the kind of ratings that draw advertisers. This means high quality programming, good, in-depth local journalism and a focus on the things that really matter to the audience. I, for one, hope that they have finally got the formula right.