2014: The year that TV tries to go local

Mark ErringtonMark Errington, CEO at OASYS, looks at factors behind the likely success or failure of UK local TV.

The UK’s major broadcasters have been unable to exploit the opportunity that local public service broadcasting has to offer for a number of years now. So when then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt essentially gave ITV the green light to pull out of regional news altogether in 2011, the commercial broadcaster happily agreed to give up the field to new plans to create a network of TV stations to better service communities, now known to us all as ‘Local TV’.

This new service has created an opportunity for innovation in the way we deliver localised TV content to viewers and last year saw the plan taking its first steps with the official launch of the Comux Network and the first of these channels (Estuary TV) going on air.

In practice, however, there are still questions around how these channels will get up and running, how they will generate enough interesting and relevant content, how local they can ever truly be, whether there is a successful business model to be found, and ultimately whether there is even an audience for local TV.

The technology is ready and waiting

When it comes to the technology, from the first announcement of a local TV service and Comux being appointed as infrastructure provider there has been confusion about how channels will set up their playout to actually get on air. Comux is certainly one option and provides a centralised infrastructure that takes many of the technical challenges off the shoulders of a new broadcaster, but it’s not the only route available. There are also other distribution channels available other than Freeview.  In fact, it’s not really the technology that is the challenge to the success of these channels, as there are a host of alternatives that offer equally fast and cost-effective ways to launch a new channel.

However, by its own admission, the Comux business model also relies on the successful sale of additional national commercial channels, with “the profits made by the sale of this capacity [being] used to fund the services for local television”. Questions remain as to who will actually buy these channels. Whether for the local TV channel itself or the additional channels Comux is trying to sell, the key to success will lie in developing engaged communities around these channels and new business models that make them commercially sustainable.

Advertisers – big and small

The next local TV channel set to launch later this month is London Live, which offers an example of how these new services can work together with their other media counterparts. London Live is set to be the first 24-hour channel devoted to the capital and is expected to work closely with its sister-organisations the Evening Standard and Independent, with news and current affairs programming able to draw on the over 35 journalists and existing editorial resources at the papers. Existing local newspapers offer an interesting opportunity for these new TV channels to tap into existing communities through cross-platform advertising and promotions.

Tie-ups with existing local media organisations also offer the potential for new advertising models to allow channels to generate income, as well as provide a service to the local community. For example, a local restaurant can advertise alongside a weekly cooking show, with the TV station also able to offer the equipment to film a brief advert for them. The ability to target on a more local basis is also something that big brands may well be interested in pursuing and one that many brands may be interested.

Neil Simpson, founding partner at ad agency The Corner and a former senior marketer at Coke and Adidas, said of London Live: “A lot of product launches like to nail London first before they roll out nationally, and London Live will help them reach critical mass quicker. It clearly appeals to London-centric brands who would not normally consider TV, but it also offers a London up-weight option for a national buy.”

There are certainly challenges ahead for local TV channels – whether it’s finding the right business model, generating great content, or partnering with another local media company. But the one thing that these new broadcasters don’t have to worry so much about is the technology, with plenty of options available to help them get on air quickly and cost-effectively.

It is clear, with London Live due to launch this month and another 17 stations expected to launch this year, 2014 will be the year that TV tries to go local.