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BSkyB Touts Broadband Backbone To Local TV

Channel 4 confirmed on Thursday that it had submitted an expression of interest in the proposed national TV network that underpins Jeremy Hunt’s plan to deliver local news.

At the same time, BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) indicated that it was in discussions with the minister about how it might use its networks to assist in helping local broadcasters transmit their services – but the satellite broadcaster is not understood to be a bidder for the new national channel that will underpin the new city based stations.

Channel 4 put in its proposals three days after the deadline, last Monday, 7 March, because the issue had to be debated and agreed by the main board of directors.

A spokesman said the bid was a qualified expression of interest, dependent on the new national channel having a prominent slot on the EPG, and was vague about the detail of the service’s proposed content.

Channel 4 believes it cannot afford to stay out of the debate on local TV and deprive itself of up-to-date information about Hunt’s project. The new national channel funded by national advertising would be a potential competitor.

However, Channel 4 said the concept of the hybrid channel, a national service with local opt-outs, was not a natural fit, either for its brand or for its demographic positioning, as it targets programmes at younger adults and upmarket viewers.

BSkyB, meanwhile, has told Hunt it is interested in assisting local television through broadband distribution, by viewers using the existing yellow button on the electronic programme guide. About a third of BSkyB set-top boxes are ready to handle IPTV.

The broadcaster said it has been in discussions with Hunt about how much assistance it could provide as a platform, and is directing its approach and interest through the main company, rather than involving Sky News.

It said that its pattern of satellite distribution for main channels was geared towards national coverage.

Another bidder, TripleSee, has also come forward, formed by a consortium of three independents and media companies: production company TwoFour, based in Plymouth, Maidthorn Partners and New Media Partners.

The key executives include former BBC strategist Simon Walker and former Channel 5 programme director Lisa Opie.

They envisage a national channel on Freeview that celebrates and showcases localness but does not carry the expensive burden of running separate digital terrestrial television stations across the UK. They would then encourage smaller local stations to run broadband distributed programming.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is expected to publish a list of the interested bidders, with a summary of their proposals, and is said to have given details to Ofcom and the BBC. Hunt has said he had 31 expressions of interest by the deadline

This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.