Thompson's local TV partnership offer to regional editors

BBC director general Mark Thompson has told editors that he regretted the term "ultra local TV" was ever used and urged them "not to turn on those closest to you".

He used a Society of Editors keynote speech as a bid to allay the regional newspaper industry's widespread fears about the BBC's plans to expand into online local TV. Regional editors fear its expansion into their patches will be unfair competition and stifle their own fledgling online video news services.

Thomson effectively told editors that he comes in peace, not war, and even offered to provide regional titles with a "new revenue stream" by paying for their content.

He said he could see a "coalition of the willing" being formed between newspapers that wanted to enter into partnership with the BBC and pool some content.

He said: "If we go ahead with our vision of local TV, the scale of what we offer will be limited — we have in mind a core of what will be no more than 10 minutes of audio-visual material per day, delivered over broadband and possibly also by digital satellite and cable. Editorially it would aim to complement the market.

"Potentially lucrative features — detailed entertainment listings, for instance, with the opportunity to click through to purchase tickets, or classified advertisements — would be left to others and, in my view, should be explicitly excluded from any consent."

He added: "Above all we would commit to working with, rather than in opposition to, other providers of local news and information. The BBC's local TV is intended to enrich our current local offering, represented by local radio in England and by our Where I Live sites across the UK.

"It will not be any more local than they are — that means that on average each local TV service would hit a catchment of around a million people. This is not the hyper local service that some of our critics worry about."

In September, the BBC concluded a nine-month £3m trial of local TV in the West Midlands.

Thompson insisted that it would only be rolled out across the rest of the country if it could be proved that this trial service did not have an impact on the rest of the media market.

He said: "There is no evidence, either in the West Midlands trial or more generally, that web usage in the field of local information is substitutional in the way that some forms of conventional media are."

He said: "As of today, local TV is an idea inside the BBC, one which has also been the subject of a trial in the West Midlands. If it becomes a formal proposal, then the BBC and Ofcom will jointly commission a market impact assessment and Ofcom will carry it out.

"Only after that and the whole public value test is concluded will the trust decide whether or not the service can go ahead." He said the BBC's web strategy had now changed from one of trying to keep site users "in" to one of making on "active point of linking to other news sites".

Thompson concluded: "In these disruptive and unsettling period of change, it can be tempting to turn on those closest to you. Any competition — even familiar competition — can seem threatening and dangerous. In fact, the disruptive forces we face are global ones, and often spearheaded by global businesses.

"It may be that — within the right context and, of course, with the right safeguards — we can meet some of these forces more successfully.

"At the BBC, we're ready for a new partnership with the UK's local, regional and national newspapers."

When pressed by editors after his speech, Thompson was unable to provide exact details of how any payments by the BBC for editorial material would work.

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