Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The changing face of TV

The Coalition Government (have you noticed they never call it The Government. It's always coalition. Share the blame?) have today announced their plans for "Local TV". Apparently it would be a good idea for local areas to produce their own local TV.

But hang on. Isn't that what we had with ITV Franchises until the turn of the millennium. OK, it was (is) more regional than local, but who can deny that watching This is Your Right with Lord Winstanley in Granadaland or Gus Honeybun in Devon wasn't exciting. Of course in recent years the regionality of independent television in Britain has been eroded by the creation of ITV from the merger of the two largest TV regional licence holders (Granada and Carlton) and the subsequent envelopment of smaller franchises and legislation meaning that less and less regional programming was required.

But will local TV be a success in the current market. British media has in recent years, seen more and more consolidation. Take radio for example. In the 1970's a wave of local radio stations opened up in an attempt to curb the pirate radio of the 60's by giving the audience what they wanted.

Local radio DJs became mini stars in their own right. The station charity football team was a huge fundraising opportunity and you could get thousands at your summer fair by asking the roadshow mobile to turn up.

Then the groups got involved. First a number of stations re bought up by one company and run as separate entities. Then the overnight shows are networked, then the evening shows (overnights are networked and voice tracked).

We are now at a stage where some of the heritage radio stations have disappeared from the dial completely and are now called Capital or Heart and have the same programmes all day, every day.

Of course there are sound economic reasons why this is the case. It is obviously cheaper to make one programme that goes out on five stations than to make five that go out on one each.

Apparently the audience are no longer as discerning as they used to be. Those who want to hear local news and programming tune to BBC and everyone else just wants to listen to music with the occasional bloke reading out cue cards as and when. Actually, I don't believe that at all. In my time in a local community radio station, the most popular programmes where the ones with a highly localised slant. Local news and sport were the big draws, but the programmes with a local people talking about local history, memories of old nightclubs, local memories went down a storm too. But can they make money. That is the difficult thing to prove.

So why would local TV work where radio has abandoned. Of course, the TV is THE medium of choice in 90% of homes. It is like wallpaper. It is on even when no one is watching. But is the audience who choose programming with deliberation really have enough sway to be able to make local TV economically viable. I'm not convinced that any quality will come from localisation of TV. In fact, there is an argument that the deregionalisation has resulted in a cheap and cheerful set of programming with the quality shining through rather than being an every day occurrence. What have you watched tonight on TV? Not sat in front of the goggle box for as long as you did 10 - 20 years ago I'll bet.

So local interesting concept. I wait with baited breath.

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