Two former senior employees from failed Manchester TV station Channel M have said that Government proposals to launch a network of low-cost local TV stations won’t work due to lack of funding.
Former Channel M breakfast show producer Vanessa Williams and former sports editor Mike Bradley told Press Gazette that the Government needs to learn from the mistakes that led to the demise of Channel M.
Ex-BBC director general Greg Dyke submitted a report yesterday suggesting that up to 80 local TV stations could be launched each with annual funding of around £500,000 a year. And last month investment banker Nicholas Shott suggested in his report that a dozen local TV stations could be set up in major cities with annual funding of £1.6m a year each.
ITV currently subsidises its regional news operation to the tune of around £50m a year – but this could end when its current licence expires in 2014. The Government has said it plans to launch local TV with initial funding of £25m followed by £5m a year taken from the BBC licence fee.
Williams and Bradley left Channel M in May 2009 to set up BrilliamsTV providing media training and films for online use.
Williams said: “City TV is a fantastic concept and works brilliantly in Toronto, Canada, broadcasting to the 2.5 million city residents. It has become the must-see programming for the city residents as they receive up to the minute newscasts, weather, sports bulletins, travel information and interviews and live appearances with visiting celebrities.
‘And that is exactly why it works there. The information the residents receive is delivered with the same speed and accuracy they could find by looking on any number of websites for their latest news, traffic, travel and weather. City TV is quick, instant and most importantly, up to date.”
She said that with Channel M only able to offer news programming three times a day, viewers often went elsewhere for their local, regional and national news.
Channel M was far more well resourced than the Government’s proposed stations – it’s annual budget was more than the entire £5m a year Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is currently proposing to spend on Local TV.
Channel M was mothballed by GMG in March last year after it failed to find a buyer following the sell-off of the rest of MEN Media to Trinity Mirror. It is set to be relaunched by Guardian Media Group in some form this spring. At its peak it claimed to attract 300,000 viewers a week and to generate revenue of £4.3m a year.
Bradley said be believes that low-cost local TV services would not attract enough viewers to be sustainable because they would not be able to cover breaking news effectively.
He said: ‘In order for a city TV idea to work in the UK any station would need a dedicated news team working around the clock liaising with the emergency services, traffic control, weather stations as well as seeking out genuinely interesting and worthy news stories.
‘Live outside broadcast links throughout the city would be required in order to report stories and situations as they unfolded and developed along with CCTV traffic cameras providing live video updates to commuters.
‘Any such UK-based channel needs to be immediate, available, unmissable and able to deliver content with the immediacy, consistency and accuracy of, for example, Sky News along with the ease of the internet.
‘In order for it to survive it has to be the first place viewers go when they switch on to see what’s happening in their city and it must be aggressively marketed and publicised until it is the only name on every city dwellers lips.
‘And only then, if any channel in the UK can operate to that template, will they be onto a winner – but they must be aware, it will take a tremendous amount of time, experience, knowledge and more importantly, money to achieve.
‘The £25million the government are talking about investing in their Local TV plans just isn’t enough and to be blunt it’s money that would be better spent elsewhere. Look at what’s happening with local and regional newspapers, they’re folding at an alarming rate and it won’t be too long before regional news broadcasting follows suit. ‘