Is Co-operation the Secret to Local TV Success?

Is it just me who is utterly perplexed by the deafening silence that followed the much-publicised letter to Jeremy Hunt, from prospective Local TV licence bidders opposing the government’s Muxco proposal? Why is so much emphasis being placed on the delivery mechanism when local TV should be about deriving revenue from the distribution of engaging, relevant content, not the technology or the platform?

Maybe we need an analogue solution to this digital conundrum. In 1950, 23 European broadcasters got together in a Torquay hotel and laid the foundations of what must be one of the first ever content sharing agreements. Thus the European Broadcasting Union was born – a self-regulating alliance with each member agreeing to provide minimum levels of “free” content and services to the collective – and nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. Using the “virtual” currency of Gold Francs to trade between themselves, membership costs and dividends were subject to a complex but irrefutably fair algorithm that was primarily based on the number of TV sets within each region – in modern day parlance, reach.

So, in the spirit of that hugely successful model, why not create a community or cooperative Muxco – owned by the Local TV licensees on a non-profit basis – to manage the technical and operational facilities required, and to co-ordinate the supply of the myriad of additional obligatory services?

Independent broadcast consultancy Canis Media is working with a number of potential licensees and CEO Ed Hall pulls no punches: “Our clients see this as a straightforward and transparent proposition since it completely removes the thorny issue of yet another entity trying to make a bottom line profit out of these already challenging business models.”

With the focus firmly on generating revenue to support the initiative, rather than relying on BBC and other Government funding, Hall continues, “operating profits made from the national resale of spare mux capacity to shopping/gaming or programme based buyers, could be distributed amongst the local TV operators on a measured audience or geographic split basis.”

On the subject of audience measurement, since BARB data would likely be unavailable and irrelevant at this micro level, a co-operative would be in a strong position to broker a bespoke media sales currency for Local TV advertisers and sponsors.

Hall has a good point – this community-based, not-for-profit approach appeals to many aspiring local broadcasters, it provides a degree of control and ownership rather than being subject to the terms of a state imposed monopoly supplier. Suddenly this starts to look like a sensible business proposition: it provides revenue for re-investment back into the local TV communities and embraces the spirit of the Big Society initiative by keeping social inclusion at the core of the execution of the UK Local TV plan.

Profits could be even used to promote local TV nationally or even internationally on other platforms. By aggregating the best content from each operator, you could create an extremely powerful – and commercially attractive – TV channel. “UK Today” could be the showcase the Government sorely needs to place brand UK firmly front of mind in a global community. A handy PR tool for the upcoming Olympics.

The UK has arguably the most respected and experienced broadcast community in the world – in part thanks to the BBC – and those aspiring to deliver local TV need to be trusted to do what is right for their region, without unnecessary state interference.

Jeremy Hunt should take one bold step further and allow these experts and stakeholders to truly shine. Not only because if it all goes wrong the finger of blame can be pointed elsewhere, but when it all goes right he can show the world just how good UK TV really is.

  • Rick Waghorn

    All very interesting. But for the people of Buckinghamshire, Suffolk, Essex, Portsmouth, Cumbria, etc etc who don’t enjoy the benefits of the good people of Mold in sitting beneath an appropriate TV transmitter, I would argue that co-operation is far more relevant in terms of content sharing than divvying up MUX capacity – whether it is to the benefit of a Mr Horwood or a non-profit co-operative.

    One could argue that it is all-too akin to debating who looks after the lock keeper when some of us are trying to build a railway….

    … and a common treasury for all in terms of content; a national ‘video vault’ that empowers me, Norwich ‘TV’, to swap foodie videos with Dorian of MyCornwall TV and Martin at CumbriaLive TV… and frees up more resource for local news production.

    best etc