Hunt: Broadcasters should provide local content

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will say today that large commercial broadcasters like ITV, Channel 4 and Five should have to support local TV or risk losing their prime slots in onscreen guides.

Hunt will warn broadcasters that a condition of gaining a favourable Electronic Programme Guide listing would be the provision of services of social and cultural benefit, like local news broadcasts.

‘I will begin the process of redefining public service broadcasting for the digital age by asking Ofcom to look at how we can ensure that enough emphasis is given to the delivery of local content,’Hunt is expected to say.

‘I intend to bring forward new legislation to clarify which PSB channels should get guaranteed positioning on page one of the Electronic Programme Guide and its future online equivalents.”

A high slot on the EPG is crucial to a channel’s ability to pull high rates of advertising but Hunt will also say the BBC can play a key role in providing access to local content and will say he has been encouraged by ‘the serious thought that the BBC has been giving to how it might partner with new local media providers.”

Shortly after the election Nicholas Shott, of investment bankers Lazard, was charged by Hunt to investigate proposals for a Government-backed plan to launch dozens of local television stations across the UK.

Shott’s initial report, published today, says that advertising revenue alone will not be enough to ensure the success of the project and that a multi-million pound corporate sponsorship deal could be one way to make it work.

In a letter to Mr Hunt, he said the stations were more likely to succeed in “urban areas”, but even there “the economics of a TV business funded mainly by advertising will still be challenging” and “additional revenue sources” would have to be explored.

Shott, who heads a five-member steering group, published an interim report into their findings today.

He wrote: “We believe there may be scope for the local TV sector collectively to be sponsored (at least in the early years) by a large corporate wishing to be seen to support local/community life – a reasonable parallel for this is Barclays’ sponsorship of the London bicycle scheme, worth £25 million over five years”.

He added that stations could be hosted by existing channels and that discussions had started with “senior management” at the BBC which were showing “early promise”.

Hunt will argue the case for more local television in a speech today to the Royal Television Society at the Barbican Centre in London.

He is expected to say: “My vision is of a landscape of local TV services broadcasting for as little as one hour a day.

“Free to affiliate to one another – formally or informally – in a way that brings down costs.

“Free to offer nationwide deals to national advertisers.

“Able to piggyback existing national networks – attracting new audiences and benefiting from inherited ones at the same time.

“And able to exploit the potential of new platform technologies such as YouView and mobile TV to grow their service and improve their cost-effectiveness.”

He will say that an expansion of superfast broadband and the removal of cross-media rules preventing companies controlling newspapers, television and radio stations will all help make the plan more likely to succeed.

A BBC spokesman said: “We are exploring potential ways in which the BBC could support the planned new local TV services, and partner with them where this makes sense for licence fee payers and sustaining plurality in news provision.”

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