Nicholas Shott’s report into the feasibility of new local television services in the UK envisages ten or twelve stations that initially piggyback on terrestrial television services. Until the arrival of universal high-speed broadband, Shott anticipates two hours per night of local content that could be accessed from the programme guide or a ‘yellow button’.
It is a vision which explicitly contemplates stations being run by pre-existing local media groups such as newspapers.
The report estimates that funding such services will cost around £25m. It suggests that £15m of this should come from an underwritten advertising contract with an organisation that has pre-existing experience in such a market (such as ITV), £5m might come from the BBC, under its commitment to acquire more local news, and finally £5m per annum might come from selling advertising locally.
That Shott – a veteran of Express group newspapers and now a merchant banker – should come up with such a limited vision should, perhaps be no surprise. And a package that offers jam tomorrow to existing press barons has obvious political use for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned the report.
Nevertheless, this report could have offered so much more.
Creating stations in cities, such as Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne, will provide more local news for areas that are already well-served by regional television news. Ceding control to local media organisations will bolster press groups most of which have already treated the communities they serve with disdain. But worst of all, such an initiative could crowd out genuinely local, small-scale internet television operations.