Local TV – Muxco, Measurement and Money

This week’s “Next Steps For Local Television” Westminster Forum conference proved quite an eye-opener for the uninitiated. With as many opinions as attendees, even agreement to disagree couldn’t be established.

With the main sessions split neatly into two hot topics – Technology and Content – the panelists and the audience divided pretty neatly into the Experts who “knew what they were doing” and the Passionistas who were “doing what they knew”, with not a great deal of common ground between them. The Experts quoted stats, creds and models (note that’s previously successful ones) whilst the Passionistas got straight to the touchy feely heart of what real Community TV might actually look like.

Both are right of course – not for profit shouldn’t mean up for loss, but holding one single Local TV licence is clearly not going to come with the print-money option. However multi-licence bidding for the major conurbations – with the inherent economies of scale – could potentially exclude the voices and involvement from those very communities that the government has decreed central to Big Society.

So what’s the balance? The government’s distribution mechanism “Muxco” – previously the elephant in the room but publicly outed here as the “killer” of the entire initiative – doesn’t yet exist. How can a potential licensee produce a Local TV business plan without knowing the costs and terms of carriage? To quote Greg Dyke “what does Muxco do?” The answer lies not with the transmitter operator Arqiva, but with the DCMS which has yet to clarify the licensing and management of this crucial element.

On audience measurement, some accurate form of quantitive metric will be a requirement for Local TV advertisers. Without a common currency the only way they will be able to gauge ROI will be to try and assess sales uplift – aside from DRTV campaigns this will be nigh on impossible. Of course BARB isn’t going to put a hand up and volunteer to create a costly audience measurement system for 60+ local TV stations where spend is likely to be a tiny fraction of the £3bn advertisers currently plough into TV in the UK – they have far bigger issues to address. Perhaps the DCMS should apportion some of its £40m to set up a local version. (Another beauty parade anyone?)

On the subject of money, if any of the potential licensees have mentally divvied up their notional share of the BBC’s alloted £5m over 3 years for content acquisition, and included it in their revenue stream, they should think again. The BBC has a well-established commissioning process that it is charter-bound to adhere to. Will there have to be yet more secondary legislation to facilitate circumvention – along with all the other legal and regulatory tweaks that will have to be fast-tracked to get the Local TV show on the road?

I can’t be alone in thinking that DCMS and Ofcom should have had a public presence at this forum – if only to help potential bidders understand what has been published thus far.

So Mr. Hunt, more information, more listening and more public discussion please – and soon. These Local TV visionaries may not all agree on how to execute your plan, but they do have the boundless passion and desire required to make it a success. For now at least.

  • Chrisd

    Sounds like a genuine pile of crap. US local stations are on the way out as cable adoption grows and the old model of control being held by the guys who happen to have the local antenna on their roof are fast disappearing. Ad to that the high population density and small overall size of the UK and it’s hard to see why the DCMS is bothering with this initiative. Even even at the current levels of local granularity all local TV is capable of is a depressingly parochial succession of stories of petty misery.

    • Tom Mountford

      Perhaps I’m too old, and not young and ‘down with the kids’ (although I’m only just shy of thirty) but I have Twitter, I have Facebook, I have YouTube, I already have hundreds of quality TV channels on demand. I feel the opportune time for local television to have gained a foothold came and went in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’m willing to be proved wrong, but I just don’t see why anyone would give a damn.

      To agree with Chris – I have never regularly bought a local paper because I have found they are nothing but endless whinging from curtain-twitching retirees and tales of elderly couples’ golden anniversaries. I have seen several pilots of ‘proof of concept’ community television services and they are beyond abysmal, I mean shockingly crap. Imagine your local paper, merging with the local free-ads and giving a dozen students camcorders and pushing them out of the door with the words, “Go and film something local, and make it look cool”. The result? Something that looks like it was shot by Nathan Barley on acid!

      I just don’t see a revenue model feasible enough to create anything worthy of watching, and without proven viewers advertisers won’t invest – and then it’s dead in the water. There’s a reason why current community radio stations mostly have charitable status and are run by volunteers.