Broadcast News: The Revival of ‘Local’ in the News

On Tuesday 26th November 2013, when Estuary TV broadcasts to a potential 240,000 viewers in Grimsby for the very first time, every media professional in the country should be sitting up and taking notes.

Why? Because it is the first stage in what could be the second coming for local TV in the UK.

Hailed as the ‘dawn of a new media industry’ by Communications Minister Ed Vaizey earlier this year, the announcement of the first of what could be up to 70 Ofcom-licensed local TV stations has prompted feverish speculation as to what exactly this means for the industry, at time when local radio, print and TV has been faced with frequent cuts, mergers and a general sense of unease about how it stays relevant in the face of the increasing rise of online news.

Whilst it would be foolish to suggest the local TV project’s success can be predicted alone on the performance of Estuary TV – the first in the of the initial wave of 19 channels to launch – it will certainly provide a tantalising insight into what we might come to expect from these new franchises.

Leaving the Evening Standard’s London Live out of the equation for a second (firstly, because its budget for programming is already looking like it will dwarf the 18 other stations; and secondly, because, well, it’s London, and media in London operates on a quasi-national level that means it’s difficult to ever think of it as truly ‘local’…) these local TV stations offer the promise of that which all good local media should aspire to – providing content which is, at risk of the sounding obvious, fiercely local.

It’s surely no coincidence that advertising revenue on ITV fell when regions started to merge and subsequently the local news became that bit less local. What these stations do have in their favour is precisely that: locality. Unburdened by having to cover stories which scarcely fall in their region, these new local TV stations have the chance to offer a genuine alternative to that which is currently being offered by both the BBC and ITV.

No doubt, there are challenges at hand; funding and quality of content are issues which seem to be the most pressing concern for cynics and some media analysts. Resources at local paper and radio stations are already stretched, so the news that some of the licenses will be using talent from already established radio and papers may well have a detrimental impact on quality. What this means, also, is that there will likely be an increased reliance on volunteers and unpaid internships to produce the content, which doesn’t exactly assuage fears that quality will not be up to scratch of BBC and ITV in the immediate future.

These concerns are valid and pressing, but only time will tell whether or not they are actually founded.

Instead, we must look to opportunities that these franchises present. Firstly, local businesses can exploit truly targeted advertising. Secondly, as a result of the aforementioned prediction that resources may be stretched, there is a big chance for switched-on PR professionals to help shape not only the content these stations use, but the way in which the content is presented.

It will require that PRs do their homework – and, one suspects, the legwork – but by offering local TV stations everything they need to make engaging content (stories relevant to their audience, local experts, case studies, filming locations et al) this is a chance for industry professionals to get brands featured prominently once again in genuinely targeted local news coverage.

And in an era when frequently cited buzz words such as ‘syndicated news’ and ‘delivering quality first’ are used as little more than thinly veiled euphemisms for budget cuts to local media output, it’s a genuinely comforting prospect that these local TV licenses are bucking a trend that has become so symptomatic of the hard times local TV, radio and print have all faced in recent years.

Here’s to the 26th November, where a seaport in Lincolnshire will become the media capital of the country – if only for a night.

Full list of phase 1 local TV stations:

Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Newcastle: Made In…

Preston & Blackpool, Manchester: YourTV

Edinburgh (ETV), Glasgow (GTV): STV

London: London Live (Evening Standard)

Belfast: NvTv

Birmingham: City TV Broadcasting

Brighton & Hove: Latest TV

Grimsby: Estuary TV

Liverpool: Bay TV Liverpool

Norwich: Mustard

Nottingham: Notts TV

Oxford: That’s Oxford

Sheffield: SLTV/Sheffield Live

Southampton: That’s Solent

Multiplex operator: Comux