Hey, wannabe Murdochs, yet more chances to run your own telly station
Roll up, roll up, ignore the nasty people saying it'll flop
Ofcom has opened the bidding for seven new Local TV stations, and scheduled a further 23, to join the 14 already awarded, some of which could be on the air by the end of year.
As well as offering hyperlocal telly for the lucky inhabitants of sleepy North Wales town Mold (population 10,000), the latest round of licenses will cover Cambridge, Bangor, Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Swansea and York.
Blighty's communications watchdog Ofcom will award licences to the company it judges most able to provide a quality Local TV service - and, perhaps more importantly, create a sustainable business model to pay for it. The remaining 23 locations will be awarded in similarly small groups, to speed up the decision-making process in the hope of getting the new stations on air within 18 months.
Time is critical, as the success of Local TV is largely predicated on prominent positioning in the Freeview EPG, at Channel 8. But, as viewers’ habits shift towards TV-on-demand services, the value of EPG positioning declines – and Local TV needs all the help it can get. The stations are broadcast in White Space spectrum which is not being used locally for existing channels. However, that limits the transmission power and thus the coverage of the new stations.
Previous UK attempts at local TV have found it impossible to raise sufficient revenue, but the Ministry of Fun (aka Culture, Media & Sport) has brow-beaten the BBC into funding the transmission network to the tune of £25m, as well as pushing it to buy £5m worth of "Local" content every year for the next three years, which should help.
Despite the lessons of history, companies are queuing up to run Local TV stations in the most lucrative locations, convinced they can make it work. Embarrassingly for Ofcom, there were precisely zero bidders for licences in Plymouth or Swansea. The latest seven licences are likely to be fiercely contested before applications close on September 11, and the next 23 will garner similar attention. At least, until the first few stations from round one come on air, allowing us to judge whether Local TV really is the gold mine some people seem to think it is. ®