That’s TV, the UK’s largest local television licence operator, plans to close 13 of its 20 studios.
Broadcast regulator Ofcom has agreed That’s TV can downsize to seven regional production centres producing content for its 20 local stations.
The remaining centres will be located in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, York, Cambridge, Salisbury and Swansea.
That’s TV chief executive Daniel Cass told Press Gazette some journalists would be kept on in other locations, with “no reduction in local news covered”.
Cass added: “This approach is consistent with the model used to deliver successful local TV services overseas. Our core aim is to enable journalists to get out of the studio and focus on great community based news gathering.”
That’s TV operates 20 of the UK’s 34 local TV stations.
It receives funding via the government’s Local TV initiative, introduced in 2011 by former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, which uses money from the BBC licence fee.
The company faced criticism last year when former employees spoke out about being “constantly exhausted” while working for little or no pay.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Our rules around local TV take account of very significant challenges facing the sector, but also ensure the character of local channels is maintained.
“That’s TV has assured Ofcom that viewers will not notice any difference in content following these changes. For example, news and interviews will still be recorded within the licensed area of each service.”
Ofcom’s Media Nations report published in July last year noted that “many local TV services continue to face challenges in generating revenue”, adding that in 2015, 2016 and 2017 the services’ expenditure was “far greater” than their income.
Ofcom also announced this week That’s TV had applied to reduce its programming commitments for 15 of its stations, along with one each from Northern Visions and Notts TV.
The requests, made through the Local Television Network group, include a reduction in the total amount of first-run local programming and a drop in the amount of news and current affairs programming for some smaller stations.
Ofcom said it was minded to accept the requests, but raised concerns over the reduction in local content and the resulting change in the “character of the service”, putting it out for consultation.
Another local TV operator this week celebrated “record” viewership of more than 5.3m in eight cities and regions in June.
Local TV, which rebranded from Made Television last year, broadcasts on Channel 7 in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, North Wales, Teesside, and Tyne and Wear.
The company said it had seen consistent month-on-month increases in viewership for the second quarter of this year, with its average three-minute reach exceeding 215,000 unique viewers each day in June according to figures from audience measurement tool TV Panel.
The network has seen its viewership grow by 40 per cent since November, it said.
It also claimed its average daily reach in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Tyne and Wear “continues to surpass the equivalent local daily newspaper circulation” of each area.
Local TV chairman David Montgomery said: “Now that Local TV has accurate audience figures we challenge the regional daily newspapers to upgrade their circulation reporting to monthly as their current reporting is always seven or eight months out of date.
“Our main competitor in the print market is seeing yearly circulation falling at a rate of 15 per cent. In Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and Newcastle our Local TV channels give much better value for advertisers.”
Reach, which publishes the biggest regional newspapers in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Tyne and Wear, hit back by saying the omission of online readership for its newspapers made Local TV seem “slightly behind the times”.
“Any serious player in the media knows that the massive and growing power of online readership can’t be ignored, whether you’re talking about London or Liverpool,” a spokesperson said.
Reach’s regional digital reach was 28.6m, according to Comscore figures from May.
Local TV argued that Reach’s “Big City Sunday” package of 49,657 circulation equated to 89,000 readers, meaning it is “dwarfed by the average Local TV Sunday average network viewership of more than 250,000”.
The Reach spokesperson said they were “proud” of the company’s total Sunday print circulation of 1.2m, adding: “We cover dozens of local areas which Local TV and other competitors don’t, which is one of the many reasons advertisers love working with us.”