Ofcom admits local TV channels won’t all succeed

Broadcasters blame data collection methods for low audience figures but slashing local content misses the point.

lucy tesseras

TV regulator Ofcom admitted yesterday that it is “very unlikely” all the local channels it is licensing will survive, following news that the holder of the Birmingham licence has gone into administration.

It is now two years since the first licences were awarded and Birmingham City TV it is not the only station to struggle.

Six local channels are now on air, including the much-hyped London Live launched by ESI Media in March, but audiences aren’t staying switched on.

Despite having collectively broadcast more than 6,400 hours of local programming to a potential audience of six million people across the UK, viewers are simply not tuning in, according to BARB data.

Ofcom has now admitted that “the nature of awarding licences for a new type of service in a competitive media market means that it is very unlikely that all channels will succeed”.

It is a sentiment that doesn’t exactly instil confidence in those left battling it out for local viewers, or those bidding for the next wave of licences.

It has been reported that on several occasions since its launch London Live has broadcast to a grand audience of zero and the business is now grappling to make the channel work by making a number of changes.

Part of the problem, according to the channel’s executives, is that BARB viewing data doesn’t adequately represent smaller TV stations.

Prior to his departure, former London Live chief executive, Andrew Mullins, who has now joined Informa Group, voiced his irritation at the fact a panel of just 855 people is used to represent the whole of London, which is skewing the data.

Not enough viewers means not enough advertisers and therein lies the problem. It was for this reason that many were sceptical about the success of the new local TV initiative when it was launched by Jeremy Hunt two years ago.

It’s a problem that must impact the holders of other licences too, but even if BARB was to review the way it operates would it really make a difference?

London Live had looked to overcome its stuttering audience figures by applying to Ofcom to cut the amount of local programming it produces by two-thirds – a clear indicator that it simply isn’t resonating with viewers – but its request was today thrown out by the media regulator.

The whole point of local TV is that it is exclusively representative of the area it is broadcast in so by slashing the amount of dedicated local content on offer London Live is really missing the point.

Yes, local TV channels might be struggling to make an impact – and as Ofcom has admitted not all will survive let alone prosper – but cutting local content doesn’t seem like the most appropriate solution.

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