Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, has poured cold water on proposals outlined yesterday by the Government to explore the creation of a series of local TV stations across the UK.
Despite the promise of innovation it offered the local news market, Bailey said she was not surprised by new culture secretary Jeremy Hunt scrapping proposals to replace ITV’s regional news provision with a network of independently funded news consortia.
Her resignation at the failure of the IFNC proposal was reflected across the local newspaper industry, which had looked on the plan as a necessary spur to true cross-platform digital publication.
Bailey said: “As part of one of the successful IFNC bidding consortia we’re naturally disappointed that the government has called time on these plans.
“We believed that the IFNCs’ capacity to tap the talent and expertise of regional media companies to provide a viable alternative to the BBC’s local news made sense for everyone.”
Trinity Mirror had been a partner in one of three IFNC pilot schemes proposed to run across Scotland, England and Wales. Each would have been funded by the Government from a licence fee under-spend set aside to pay for digital switchover.
Hunt pledged yesterday to ask Ofcom to assess whether cross-media ownership rules could be removed in the hope that – instead of publicly funded IFNCs – local media businesses would be encouraged to establish TV stations by the prospect of more favourable trading conditions.
Nicholas Shott, of investment bank Lazard, has been retained to look at potential for commercially viable local TV stations across the UK. His findings will form the basis of a “local media action plan” that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport intends to publish in autumn.
Bailey – along with the heads of several other newspaper groups – has been a consistent advocate for reform of laws preventing significant consolidation of local media business.
Despite this, she condemned Hunt’s intention of creating a series of market-driven city-based TV stations across the UK.
“We look forward to seeing the results of the independent commercial assessment of local television but it’s worth noting at this point that we don’t see ‘City TV’ as a viable proposition,” she said.
“Our research suggests that the costs are too high and the revenues too low to support a sustainable business model.”
Despite the scrapping of IFNCs, Mark Wood, chairman of the Scottish News Consortium pilot, signalled that his partnership would continue and possibly explore Hunt’s proposals.
“The SNC developed a visionary concept for multi-platform TV and web news in Scotland which would have transformed the way Scottish news is covered,” Wood said.
“The SNC alliance partners will continue to work together. This is a pioneering cross-media partnership and we will evaluate all future opportunities to implement the ideas we have developed.”
David Faulkner, managing director of NWN Media, the newspaper partner in the planned Welsh pilot, said the IFNC proposal had offered a “real way forward in boosting news provision on channel 3 and multi-platform coverage across the whole of Wales”.
“Wales Live – our partnership with UTV – saw this as an unrivalled opportunity to change the landscape of news provision in Wales where there is an urgent need for that change,” he said.
“We are disappointed with the statement that the news pilots will not proceed.”
Despite Hunt’s announcement about the fate of IFNCs, Barrie Jones, editorial director of NWN, told Press Gazette the group felt the partnership with UTV may still be viable.
“It might not be dead. All might not be lost; there is a huge groundswell of support for the bid. We genuinely believe that something may still come of it,” he said.