Doing all Wight: the ultra-local TV station that's gained a cult following

With a full-time staff of just 12, a coverage area of 150 square miles and a potential audience of only 150,000, Solent TV is believed to be the smallest television station in the UK.

Since its launch in 2002, the station – which broadcasts to the Isle of Wight, backed by a charity, Island Volunteers and funded by sponsorship and advertising – has become a hit on the island with its mix of local news, sport and features.

Solent TV chief executive Linda Ovnik says: “We have not received as much as a 10p piece in public funding.

We are self-sufficient and when we make money – and I plan to make bucket loads – it will be ploughed into community projects.”

But the channel is gaining more than just a local following. As well as being available on the island, Solent TV also broadcasts on the Sky DTH (direct-tohome)

satellite platform and cable. It streams on the internet, is available on mobile phones and has re-equipped to enable it to broadcast in HD.

“We’re pleasantly surprised by interest from other parts of the country and the world since our service went on the internet and now Sky,” says Ovnik. “We are particularly popular in Coventry and Solihull for some reason. I think we must have become cult viewing.”

Ovnik says the station’s clearly defined patch has helped Solent TV grab locals’ attention.

“We carry really local news and features of interest to the community. But our content also includes tourism material of interest to the island’s two million annual visitors.”

The station’s flagship programme is the nightly half-hour Solent Tonight.

News editor Chris Blanchett, who heads a four-strong team, says: “We have high profile events like Cowes Week and the Isle of Wight Festival.

NEWSDESK: 020 7324 2385 BROADCAST “We are lucky because our patch is so obviously defined. After all, we are bounded by water. And people here are very community-minded.

“We cover stories which wouldn’t normally be covered by a TV station – which is very much a plus point.

“We are hugely in touch with the local audience. Regional stations might do a story here once or twice a week. Every single story of ours is about the island.”

Solent airs seven days a week and advertising rates start at a modest £280 for a 80 monthly spots lasting 10 seconds.

With no BARB viewing figures available, the station cites “fantastic” viewer feedback and four million website hits a month as indicators of success.

But can a patch so small sustain such a small TV station competing with the bigger players? Solent TV works closely with the island’s local radio station, Isle of Wight Radio. It also falls within ITV’s Meridian region, where coincidentally the ITV Local service was trialled.

The News in Portsmouth and the Southern Daily Echo circulate on the island. But the biggest print rival is the Isle of Wight County Press.

The paper’s acting editor Alan Marriott says: “[Solent TV] produce an excellent news programme but we don’t see it as a rival. The County Press has a circulation of 40,000 and 90 per cent penetration on the island. I can’t see our circulation being affected.

“We see their service as complementary to what we do. And anything which excites interest in local news is to be welcomed. We, though, remain the Bible for islanders.”

Ovnik says: “There is room for us all.

We are closely connected with the voluntary sector but we are not a group of woolly- hatted, sandal-wearing do-gooders.

“We are a bunch of professionals, but I have to admit, a small bunch.”

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