The former boss of failed Manchester TV station Channel M this morning said he believed the Government’s plans to create a network of city-based TV stations would work.
Former MEN Media chief executive Mark Dodson told a City University conference on Local TV that Channel M generated revenue of £4.3m a year, created 16 hours a day of original TV and attracted some 300,000 viewers a week and 70,000 a day at its peak.
Despite the station then being mothballed by GMG in March, Dodson said he was a firm believer in the local TV concept.
Dodson said: “We are going back almost to the dark ages of local TV…I believe that the city TV model is the only model that’s going to work quickly enough.”
A huge question-mark currently hangs over regional TV news after the current licence agreement for ITV runs out in 2014. ITV has indicated that it has no appetite for continuing to fund the service, which costs it around £50m a year, if it is freed from its public service obligations.
Explaining why Channel M failed, Dodson said: “There’s no currency in the advertising market for local TV, the Barb figures are not sensitive enough…There’s no network for national advertising…And the analogue signal that we inherited from government was not fit for purpose.
“We had just got on Freeview at a time when the investment and patience had run out.”
He said: “Just because Channel M failed it doesn’t mean city TV will fail. Within three years we will have a network of TV stations in Britain starting with eight city-based networks that will help more rural statioins down the line.”
Despite Dodson’s optimism, most speakers at the conference were deeply sceptical about the Government’s Local TV plans – which it was revealed last month would be funded by £25m in start-up costs and then £5m a year, taken from the BBC budget.
Johnston Press chief executive John Fry said £5m was insignificant compared with the cost of employing the 10,000 journalists working in the regional press.
Media analyst Claire Enders said it was impossible to see how Local TV would work without significant public subsidy which could involve, she said, gifting TV spectrum to TV companies.
She said: “You are not going to see massive amounts of investment in this space because it’s not worth it. Local advertising is anaemic, the local press has been in decline for 20 years. Advertising agencies want big bang for their buck, the last thing they are interested in is Local TV.
“Subsidy is required and that subsidy might take different forms.”
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who in 1995 helped Trinity Mirror launch its shortlived local news network Live TV, said: “The idea of local TV is a complete disaster and anybody going into it is completely nuts.”
He added: “You can’t invest enough money to make it look good, but if it doesn’t look any good people think it is amatuerish and don’t want to watch it.”