Hunt’s Local-TV Panel Set To Report This Month

By Maggie Brown: The advisory panel examining ways to establish a new generation of local TV services is expected to deliver an interim report to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, by the end of the month.

Led by Nicholas Shott, the head of UK investing at Lazards, the panel has been deluged with submissions and is currently consulting widely in its quest to find a sustainable broadcast model, which could be rolled out across at least part of the country.


Last week, the panel visited newspaper groups and other interested bodies in Scotland. On Thursday they are invited to several existing local TV operators, including Belfast’s NvTv and the Community Media Association.

Claire Enders, the founder of media consultancy Enders Analysis and a member of the panel, said they expected to deliver an interim report by the end of September and their final proposals by the end of the year.

“We are making patient progress, but there are long, intractable issues,” Enders said. “We are doing our best to go through all the business models. We are leaving no stone unturned. We are aware of how keen the minister is.

“But one of the obvious things about the UK is that our conurbations are not appropriate for local television, they are not big enough. We will get somewhere, which advances the minister’s agenda, but it will not be earth-shattering stuff.”

Hunt has been an enthusiastic proponent of creating a new generation of local TV services since he became the shadow culture spokesman.

In his first speech on media policy after becoming culture secretary in June, Hunt confirmed that the new coalition government was scrapping Labour’s plan to replace ITV (LSE: ITV) regional news with consortiums funded by the BBC licence fee or another form of public subsidy.

He also announced plans to deregulate local cross-media ownership rules and push ahead with new local TV services with the appointment of Shott to lead the advisory panel.

One key difficulty is the availability of broadcasting spectrum to make local or city TV a reality, since mobile operators are expected to take precedence in an auction of transmission frequencies freed up by digital switchover.

Dr David Rushton, director of the Edinburgh-based Institute for Local TV, is urging the panel to insist, through Ofcom, on a national local television plan to ensure a proper spread of stations, not just settling for 12 or 15 services.

Another complicating factor is that the panel is not clear whether ITV intends to commit to continuing with regional news after its Ofcom licences expire in 2014.

By contrast, Enders said new community models and initiatives are mushrooming, from user-generated community material and local broadband stations, to newspaper video news sites, while companies bidding for the now abandoned, independently funded news consortium favoured by the former Labour government ploughed in large sums to formulate their proposals.

The Shott panel also includes Richard Eyre, former chairman of GCap; Lady Kingsmill, former Competition Commission deputy chairman; and Brian Linden of private equity company Cinven.

This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..