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Ofcom squeezes local TV into 20 cities' tight White Spaces

Grimbsy, Swansea, London and others in the frame

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Ofcom has identified 20 locations where it believes local telly, broadcast in White Space, is technically possible, and stands the best chance of being commercially viable.

The list includes Birmingham and Glasgow as well as Norwich and Leeds, but it's the London site which will most likely be contested by bidders. Those hopefuls will be judged on the size of their potential, rather than the size of their wallets, but Ofcom will be taking into account any ability to push their broadcasts into neighbouring population centres as every viewer will be needed if local TV is going to work.

The local stations will use geographically-interleaved frequencies, so-called White Spaces, which are being used to broadcast television elsewhere in the country. Full-power transmissions would interfere with those broadcasts, but by ratcheting down the power it is possible to run a local telly station without interfering with other broadcasts.

Making money out of that station is another matter entirely. Manchester's Channel M was probably the best punt at a sustainable local broadcast TV channel, and has consistently failed to bring in a significant amount of cash under a succession of owners despite extensive support from the University of Salford.

Some local television survives by limiting itself to web-based distribution, but the government is committed to the creation of local TV and Ofcom is, ultimately, responsible for implementing government commitments.

The BBC will have to cough up £40m to pay for these local services, £25m in an initial splurge to get MuxCo - the yet-to-be-established local broadcaster - set up, followed by a promise to spend £15m of licence-payer money on content from the local stations once they are established.

The details of that process, including how the MuxCo contract will be awarded, will be published in the next couple of weeks, but anyone dreaming of their own local TV station will need to be in Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Southampton or Swansea, and have a really clever business plan to make it pay. ®

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