Hunt to unveil plan for new channel to support local TV

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will unveil his plan to make local television a reality today by outlining proposals to launch a new national channel to host a series of regional services.

The minister will publish an Action Plan For Local Media at the Oxford Media Convention and invite firms to register their interest in running the channel, which will carry local news and content, by 1 March.

Licences for local television services will be handed out before the end of 2012.

In a speech to the convention, Hunt is expected to say: “And to make this vision a reality I am today inviting existing and new media providers to come forward with suggestions as to how this network channel – or local TV ‘spine’ – could work.”

He will add: “For consumers, what this will mean is a new channel dedicated to the provision of local news and content.

‘One that will sit alongside other public service broadcasters, offering a new voice for local communities, with local perspectives that are directly relevant to them.

“We will not be prescriptive. We will wait for the necessary technical assessment to be completed and we will listen to the commercially-viable proposals that come forward.

“Our goal is to be able to award the relevant licences by the end of 2012, and for local TV to be up and running soon after.”

A panel set up to examine the idea said local television channels might broadcast in only “10 to 12” areas to begin with.

The review chaired by investment banker Nicholas Shott said it would take “significant effort” to make the plan a success.

Shott’s report to the Government, published last year, said the channels “may initially be focused in and around 10 to 12 conurbations” and provide “at least two hours of reasonably low-cost but high-quality content a day”.

Hunt has long championed the concept of local television.

In an interview at last year’s Edinburgh International Television Festival, he described the media as “chronically over-centralised”.

He said: “It is crazy that a city like Sheffield, for example, does not have its own television station like it would have in most other developed countries.”

The Government’s masterplan said its goal is “10-20 local TV services operating by 2015”.

But it goes on to say: “The eventual aim for local TV is that it is made available throughout the UK, providing local and relevant content to all who want to access it.

However, given the commercial uncertainty involved in relation to acquiring capacity and developing a sustainable revenue proposition, it is clear that local TV cannot simply be launched across the UK immediately.”

The BBC agreed to cover start-up costs of up to £25 million in 2013/14 for local TV, for up to 20 services, as part of last year’s licence fee settlement.

It will also offer funding up to £5 million a year for three years from 2014/15 as part of the deal.

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