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BBC mulls seizing the wheel of Local TV

Auntie in line to get £25m from... the BBC

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The BBC is considering a bid for control of the Local TV multiplex, putting the national broadcaster in line for £25m from the pockets of the, er, national broadcaster.

Local TV is the UK coalition government's attempt to squeeze 20 small-area telly stations into the White Space gaps of unused radio spectrum in an effort to create "communities".

The BBC bid isn't official yet. However, the broadcaster has confirmed that it's considering a pitch for the contract, which would be funded initially from the licence fee that otherwise pays the BBC's bills. The running costs will be met by the Local TV companies using the service.

Broadcast magazine reckons the Beeb has hired ex-Channel-M-controller John Furlong to advise on the bid, which will be judged as a beauty contest by watchdog Ofcom later this year.

The regulator, which has been tasked with making Local TV happen, has decided there should be a single broadcaster known as MuxCo, which will manage distribution of the local channels to transmitter sites likely to be run by Arqiva.

Arqiva runs the vast majority of Freeview broadcast masts, so unless MuxCo plans to ask viewers to adjust their TV aerials then they'll have to strike a deal with Arqiva, assuming that MuxCo doesn't end up being run by Arqiva.

Ofcom has said that three companies expressed an interest in running MuxCo, and we understand that Arqiva drafted a bid but is still deciding whether or not to take the plunge. With the BBC admitting its own interest, that just leaves Comux as the last of the trio and the only player without an existing interest in the industry.

Well... nearly. Comux is a spinoff from Canis Media, which makes a living advising companies mulling launching Local TV channels, but the intention is that Cumux will be a cooperative owned and run by the Local TV licensees, once such licensees exist.

Ofcom will look at all the proposals, just as it will with pitches to run Local TV stations, and then pick the bid it thinks will provide the best value for money - effectively a beauty contest.

It's the same criteria that was used to award ITV channels in the UK, before the last Conservative government switched to a highest-bidder approach leading ultimately to the consolidation of all the local channels into a single monolithic broadcaster, but that's bound not to happen this time. ®

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