The race is on to run the first of the new local television stations in cities around the UK. Edinburgh and Glasgow are among them. In what amounts to the biggest shake-up of British television since the advent of satellite TV, the government’s aim is to change the broadcast landscape with much greater emphasis on local service.
The Caledonian Mercury is part of one of those bids. We have joined “Made in Edinburgh” as a media partner and will produce regular current affairs programmes for the channel should it be successful. Under the working title of “Called to Account”, the plan is to host a series of debates in which local politicians and officials are put on the spot.
On a personal note, I have been appointed as station manager for the new service. This will present a series of challenges, not least how to engage with the local community in an effective way. Lord Reith’s maxim for the BBC – “inform, educate, entertain” – applies as much to a local service as it does to a national one.
“Made in Edinburgh” is part of a larger organisation, Made TV Ltd, which is bidding for a total of 11 local television licences across the country. The company’s business model is based on one that ran successfully in the Irish Republic until the economic crisis caused advertising there to collapse.
It is chaired by former Sky Entertainment and TopUp TV founder, Ian West, and has been working on its plans for three years. The company believes there is a huge gap in the market for truly local TV – not regional. “We are massive supporters of local television,” says chief executive Jamie Conway, “and really think this will be a revolution in viewing at a local level.”
Our plan, as submitted to Ofcom, is to launch a raft of new programmes dedicated to Edinburgh, concentrating on the city itself. We have formed partnerships with local organisations including Radio Forth One, the Filmhouse, Fluid Eye Productions, PHPR, the Traverse Theatre and Jewel and Esk College.
The last of these will be significant, especially after the three Edinburgh colleges merge in October. Not only does it give us access to some of the best studio facilities outside of the mainstream broadcasters, it also means that we can give media students real-life experience of what working in a broadcast environment really means.
But it won’t mean relying on student internships – that will only be a small part of our relationship. We will be employing journalists, producers, sales staff and technicians. But we will also work with the colleges, helping with their teaching programmes and providing air time for students to showcase their material.
“Made in Edinburgh” will be as much about opportunities for local businesses as it is about creating local content. “Relying on national advertising misses the point,” according to Conway. “Local TV needs to be for local content and local advertisers. Big brands can already afford to advertise on TV. Let’s give small businesses the chance to communicate with their community.”
He is also keen to stress that “this is not another ITV. All of our stations will be locally run with local news editors and producers and local editorial control. We will produce distinctive bespoke programmes in every city every day, but because our channels are structurally linked, we can share resources, which enable commercial viability.”
And that is vital. At the end of the day, no matter who wins this contract, local television must make financial sense. Made TV has a deliverable business model which the founders believe will stand the test of time. The company is well funded, having already secured £15 million from investors.
A little frustratingly, local television in Scotland will be available on Freeview Channel 45, whereas viewers south of the border will receive it on Channel 8 – which is currently reserved for BBC Alba here. However, that simply means that we have another challenge to face, a publicity challenge and we have partners on board who can help with that.
Edinburgh has long been neglected by not having proper local coverage, and we are looking forward to creating content by the people of Edinburgh for the people of Edinburgh. We will provide news, sport, current affairs, cultural and entertainment programmes that go to the heart of this great city. This is the capital of Scotland – let’s be proud of it.
Other bidders for the Edinburgh and Glasgow franchises include STV (under the ETV and GTV banners), the Edinburgh News Network and Metro8 (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and Glasgow TV. The successful bids are likely to be announced by the middle of September.