The pitch for local, internet television is easy to make. Regional tv has always addressed vast geographic footprints few of which have any emotional resonance to viewers. And we are now used to consuming tv and video via the internet. With many new televisions linking directly to the internet, the viability of local broadband broadcasting is surely a no-brainer?
In Redruth, Cornwall, however, Dorian Spackman, founder of myCornwall.tv believes that he can realise the promise of the local broadcasting proposition. The station, which is just one of the outputs of Spackman’s company, Insider Knowledge, delivers video features from around the county, as well as recreational and tourist listings.
“Five years ago I was working for Celedor (the tv production company best known for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire), looking for new ways to make money from their brands”, he explains. “Lots of technology ideas came across my desk, most of it was rubbish, but I was really struck with internet tv. Why spend £2m to put a channel on Sky and talk to eight million homes, when you could spend a fraction of that and speak everyone on earth with a broadband connection, I thought?”
He decided that the technology had much to benefit Cornwall, for which he has long been a passionate advocate. “Cornwall has always been ill-served by local television, which addresses a huge south-western region covering four or five counties. Cornwall actually comprises a number of far more local communities – and we wanted to give those communities a voice”.
With a fifteen-year career in commercial roles in media and new media behind him, Spackman was able to attract £222,000 private investment. An application to the European Regions Development Fund (known as Convergence Cornwall) netted an additional £126,000 that is being paid to the company over two years.
Insider Knowledge now employees around 20 staff, has an annual turnover of more than £500,000. It offers a broad package of television production related services and undertakes full-service commercial production work. It also runs internet television services on behalf of the Eden Project and the Cornish Pirates Rugby Football team. For the latter it provides live match coverage which is broadcast over the internet.
These outlets provide income, as does advertising and licensing of internet platforms developed by the company. Spackman says that more than 50,000 people a month are now accessing myCornwall.tv, and the company is breaking even. Like the Caledonian Mercury, myCornwall.tv has also benefited from an interested diaspora far from Cornwall’s borders.
For the past two years, their editorial bias has been deliberately ‘telling stories and featuring people’, says Spackman. “We have avoided news, because of the obvious costs, but we are likely to do more current-affairs type programming in the near future.”
Although Insider Communications is, at its core, commercial, and Spackman in unashamed about wanting to grow his business, he is keen to emphasise the communitarian worth of what they do. In particular, he offers media work opportunities for young people in the county, who would otherwise have to leave to develop their careers. “I see the company as being like a raspberry ripple”, he says. “The vanilla is the commercial part of what we do, the ripple is our altruistic work.”
Spackman also hopes to replicate the local-tv-service model elsewhere. He is an advanced stage of planning a service both in the north-east of England and elsewhere in the south west.
He certainly appears to have the ambition to carry this off – although even Spackman accepts that he faces a considerable challenge. He told one recent conference that to stay afloat his company had to ‘beg, borrow and steal’, and recent funding problems at the Cornwall Pirates could spell the end for that income stream in the new year.
He also faces an uphill slog simply attracting the notice of the communities that he seeks to serve. One BBC reporter who has lived in and reported on Cornwall for 20 years told me that he had not heard of myCornwall.tv.
Graham Smith, the former current affairs editor of ITV Westcountry said: “Content-wise myCornwall.tv seems like an online version of the glossy lifestyle mags such as Cornish Life, that sell very few copies but carry lots of advertising. If they are getting 50,000 hits a month, well done to them, but I have no sense that they have made themselves known to Cornwall at large – and there is certainly nothing on the site that would cause me to cancel my local newspaper subscription”.
If Spackman succeeds, however, he will certainly have created a model that many will try to emulate.