Local TV channels on track for spring 2014 launches

Broadcasters launching a range of new local television stations are set to defy predictions that the Government’s plan to revamp local TV would fail.

Many of the 19 local licence holders that Press Gazette spoke to are embarking on a hiring spree ahead of the scheduled 2014 launch.

Former culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt first outlined proposals for a network of local TV channels in January 2011 before inviting media operators to bid for the right to broadcast in cities across the country.

The Government originally identified 21 areas for the first round of local TV licences but only 19 were awarded, with those in Swansea and Plymouth abandoned because of a lack of bids in those regions.

Bill Smith, director at  Latest TV Brighton, said he has recruited six full-time broadcast journalists so far, and plans to increase that to 20 in the coming months.

In March, Smith defended local television in Press Gazette after former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw predicted that the scheme would be a “flop”.

Speaking last week, he insisted that the launch of the station would help regional journalistic talent flourish.

“My position hasn’t changed, and if anything I’m now even more convinced that local TV will be good for Britain,” said Smith. “It is an amazing thing for television in general, it’s going to extend the democratic vision of this country.

“Young broadcasting talent won't have to flock to London – they can work in the area they grew up in, where we can nurture them through every stage in their development. We’re strongly encouraging local filmmaking talent to submit their own pieces – ‘you make it, we’ll film it’ is very much our mantra.”

Although Smith said Latest TV was planning a February launch it would be “ready to go” in December.

“There are no scheduled delays, things have moved remarkably quickly and we are delighted with the progress we have made. It’s very exciting.

 “We’re going to use the next three months to build our studios with help from design students from City College Brighton, a partnership we are very pleased to be part of.”

Made Television gained four licences and will run stations in Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Newcastle. YourTV operates channels in Manchester and Preston while the capital will be served by the Evening Standard’s London Live. A full list of the channels is available here.

Local TV is set to receive £40m in funding from the BBC over the first three years – some £25m will go towards creating the broadcasting infrastructure with a further £5m a year to help subsidise programming.

Meanwhile, Sheffield Live plans to take a multimedia approach by establishing a network of community correspondents.

Although intending to be a chiefly volunteer-based operation Sheffield Live will recruit a head of news later this year and plans to have a team of five full-time journalists

“Preparations are going smoothly with no delays and we’re looking at a June 2014 launch,” CEO Steve Buckley told Press Gazette.

“This autumn we are piloting an interactive smartphone-based news journalism app called StoryMaker (www.storymaker.cc) for citizen reporting and local news-gathering, to encourage the people of Sheffield to make and upload their own news. That kind of community interaction is certainly something that we'd like to focus on.”

Sheffield Live, as well as Notts TV, Made In Bristol and City TV Birmingham, are set to give journalism students from local colleges and universities a central role in their operations by offering competitive broadcast apprenticeships to their communities.

In the case of Notts TV, news HQ will be Nottingham Trent University’s Centre for Broadcast Journalism, and hourly bulletins will be broadcast from their state-of-the-art studios.

The channel, managed by former BBC News correspondent Robert Pittam, will launch in April 2014 and has already started recruiting.

While none of the channels Press Gazette spoke to forecasted significant delays, not all the preparations have proceeded without a hitch.

“Our ability to report live on-site is crucial to us, but at the moment it is highly dependent on us finding the appropriate technologies, which is proving more difficult than expected,” said Chris Kerr of Bay TV Liverpool.

"However it is something at we are working towards and everything is on track for a spring launch. We currently have three freelance video-journalists working for us at the moment on our IPTV service. Once we launch we will have two news editors and three video journalists working on our news output; and a further three VJs working on feature programmes.”

Last week ESTV chief executive Andrew Mullins detailed a provisional launch date of 6 March 2014 for the capital’s London Live channel and revealed the station is currently discussing out-sourcing ad sales with several third-party companies. 

The station has hired ex-Formula 1 media technology technician Bryn Balcombe to oversee their cross-platform media initiatives and create new technologies for news-sharing. The station also boasts the acquisition of former Sky News commissioning editor Vikki Cook as its head of news and current affairs.

Last week, Arqiva was selected manage broadcast services for the entire network of local TV stations including network access and managed transmissions.

Freeview Channel 8 has been allocated for all local channels in England and Wales. In March, Ofcom announced plans for channels in a further 30 locations across Britain.

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