The owner of Brighton-based Latest TV has hit back at claims Local TV is a “busted flush” and a “silly idea”.
Bill Smith was responding to a blog post in which The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade said the UK’s fledgling network of Local TV stations should be closed down rather than offered more subsidy from the BBC’s licence fee income.
Smith insisted some local TV stations are doing well and revealed that his own is breaking even, just over a year after launching.
So far 20 Local TV stations have launched around the UK broadcasting local news and entertainment on Freeview Channel 8 in England and Wales. Some £40m of BBC licence funding supports the channels, with £25m going on broadcasting infrastructure and £5m a year for three years ear-marked for programming.
Greenslade spoke out after it was revealed that Norwich-based Mustard TV lost £657,000 last year. Chief executive of parent company Archant suggested more financial support would be needed from the BBC.
London Live, the local TV channel owned by the Lebedevs, made a loss of £11.6m in the year to September 2014.
In an open letter to Greenslade, shared with Press Gazette, Smith said: “The range of independent local TV channels operating under the Local TV Network banner is diverse and overall thriving, and there are a wealth of positive benefits arising from the establishment of these interesting and commercially viable companies which are being lost under a blanket of negative coverage from the larger and largely London-centric media.
“Regarding the figures for Local TV, recent statistics from BARB show that five million people view the channel per month. As many of the channels are still in their first year of operation, this can be seen to be very successful in terms of reach.
“We are happy to expand on all the viewership figures for the channels. In comparison to other large channels such as Channel 4, the figures are excellent for the first and second year of broadcast.”
Smith said the Latest TV produces 25 programmes a week with a staff of 23 people. He said it has a turnover of £400,000 year and is currently breaking even.
Smith said that Local TV is “all about local democracy”.
He said: “Throughout Brighton, Hove and Worthing the channel is reaching many people and organisations, and more importantly giving them a voice on television. The issues that are affecting our city are debated by our councillors every night on our show, The Vote, just like The Today programme or Question Time does for Westminster politics. We feel that local democracy is as important.”
Smith said Latest TV produces a “significant number” of news packages for BBC Southeast’s 6.30pm evening news.
And he added that “it is galling that someone without knowledge about the commercial arrangement is seeking to dismantle something that 1) works, 2) is good value for money, 3) gives young people a break into the industry and 4) opens up debate on so many issues that would otherwise remain hidden.
“Through selling local and national advertising and through establishing local television training, these companies are providing much-needed jobs as well as a platform for local businesses to advertise their products and services on television at cost-effective rates.
“The arrangement with the BBC as explained is a commercial transaction for local news stories which are provided at a fraction of what the BBC would pay to produce these themselves. It is simply nonsense to say that the BBC is bailing out the sector.”
He said so far only £2m of licence fee cash has been shared between the 20 local TV stations spent by the BBC on programming.
Smith said that Latest TV was the only channel in attendance at the start of the Shoreham airshow in August which ended in tragedy with 11 spectators killed. He said his channel’s footage was aired on BBC, CNN and national newspaper websites.
“We don't think that being judged solely by London is the correct view when assessing the full rich content from 20 cities across the UK – Cardiff, Nottingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brighton, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester, Tyne & Wear, Leeds, Bristol, Norwich, Lancashire, Grimsby, Birmingham, Sheffield, Oxford, Cambridge and Belfast.
“The business models of each vary and there are many success stories to relay that are hidden from the national media. There are many people aware of their locality who find the local TV channels a source of entertainment, information and star quality."