Ten Alps: Why Bob Geldof's company wants a slice of state-funded local news

Ten Alps. . .

Apart from anything else, it’s a great name — one that might become a lot more familiar if HM Government decides that ITV’s local news duties should be farmed out to external consortia underwritten by £100m+ of taxpayer cash.

Ten Alps has announced an interest in bidding for four of ITV’s local news franchises — in Ulster, the north-west, the north-east and the Midlands. The company could end up running the ITV news franchise in one or two of these regions, perhaps in conjunction with a regional newspaper group.

On this basis, it seems sensible to take a closer look at the company co-founded by Bob Geldof and chief executive Alax Connock in 1999

The first thing to note is the power of the Geldof name. In revenue terms, Ten Alps is a minnow: last year, it generated thinnish pre-tax profits of £3.3m on revenues of £80m.

Despite this, the Geldof connection means that Ten Alps gets covered regularly everywhere from the FT to the Evening Standard. (Sir Bob is a major shareholder and non-executive director.)

Call it confused, protean or hyperactive: despite its tiny size, Ten Alps probably qualifies as one of the most diversified media companies in Britain.

It owns several TV production houses (most of which deal in factual documentaries); a B2B contract publishing organisation (which publishes 750 mostly contract titles and is responsible for most of the company’s revenues and profits); and a conference and events arm. Ten Alps also holds the contract to broadcast teachers.tv — a highly-regarded site-cum-satellite channel — on behalf of the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.

Oddly, Ten Alps also owns a range of businesses that you’d normally expect to find inside a marketing services agency. It owns three ad agencies: DBDA, MTD and RMA, an events organiser, and a video production arm that produces everything from online virals to training videos.

If this ambitious spread of businesses induces giddiness, it’s worth remembering that 40% of the company’s revenues originate within the public sector. A further generous slug of revenues comes from publications apparently produced on behalf of non-profit, academic or membership organisations. Compared with these revenues, the company’s traditional TV production business is small (and not that profitable, either).

This is a Blair era business model, constructed to satisfy the insatiable desire of non-profits and the public sector to communicate directly with consumers and interested professionals. Quite how it will fare under a Conservative government remains to be seen.

Some potential partners will be concerned that Ten Alps is overly reliant on low-quality profits generated by B2B contract publishing deals. Others will argue that every contract journal produced on behalf of (for example) Cornwall County Council represents revenue diverted away from (say) local newspapers.

In this respect, it’s worth taking a look at the company’s existing experiments in state-funded local video news: Kent TV and Fermanagh TV.

Both sites are funded by local councils. At Kent TV, a decently-produced clip on local drug addiction services jostles for prominence with a detailed how-to guide to hair straightening (shot in a High Street salon).

In Fermanagh, a better-looking site mixes nostalgia (an exhibition on ‘growing up in the Fifties’at Enniskillen Museum) with hard news (a car ramming through a restaurant window in Lisnaskea). The site comes complete with links to The Impartial Reporter, a Fermanagh-based newspaper owned by Clyde & Forth Press.

It’s easy to boggle at Ten Alps’ apparent hyperactivity. But unlike most regional newspaper groups, this is a company that understands how to make money in the quirky badlands between the public and private sectors.

As for those state-funded news sites in Kent and Fermanagh, take a look. No doubt they’re the video-based equivalent of local council freesheets. But they’re not half bad.

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