Text from Wesminster Media Forum slot on Local TV

Despite being out of practise and a little under the weather, I opted to talk pretty much without my notes last month… what I said seems to have come out better than I thought it did (although I seriously misread – and mispitched the needs and preferred style of the audience until it was too late).
Transcript – unedited from how it was on the day – below.

Local TV: platforms and distribution
Damian Radcliffe, Head of Broadcasting, CSV Media
“Thank you, Dave for your usual evangelism for local TV.
I’m going to talk for a couple of minutes in, perhaps, slightly less technical terms and more, generally, around the philosophy behind local TV and why I think it matters.
Can I start off, first of all though, with a show of hands, as to who in the room has shares – who owns some shares? If you can raise your hands if you own some. Oh less than I thought, okay. Keep your hands up if the people you own the shares with give you a dividend, so you get, like I did this morning, a cheque for 72 pence from Barclays to say thank you for your custom. And then, similarly, raise your hand if you think that a dividend to you means a bonus or a reward, you’re better off than you were beforehand. Only three of you agree with the definition from dictionary.com.
My concern with the Digital Dividend is that where we are with local TV, we risk being worse off post 2012, than where we are now, and arguably, where we are now, we’re worse off than we were five years ago, ten years ago, possibly even twenty years ago.
We’ve a fine tradition in the UK of strong, regional, local TV services and they’re a very important part of our broadcasting ecology. Arguably, it’s those local and regional services that are most at risk of being lost, as a result of changes to our broadcasting, as a result of digital switchover. And I’m particularly concerned about the suggestion of moving services solely to broadband.
Now we know, in 2012, that almost a 100% of the population will have digital TV, but we haven’t seen any projections which have suggested that a 100% of the population or anywhere near that, will necessarily have broadband. So if we put local and regional services available solely on broadband, the risk is that there are large percentages of the population who will not be able to access it.
Similarly, we also don’t know what level of broadband speed that people will have. There’s some discussions about whether Ofcom makes broadband access a universal service provision, but at what speed?
The danger is, that the speed will be too slow for people to get the full benefits of the local and regional AV services that are being pumped out via different ISPs and broadcasters and publishers. And I kind of, I’m sort of torn with that really, that feels to me like somebody dangling a kings size Mars bar in front of me and then actually giving me a fun size Mars bar, I’d feel cheated, I’d rather someone, actually, hadn’t offered me a Mars bar at all in the first place. And is there a risk that we’re going to go down a similar line with moving services to broadband and broadband only?
So the universality, I think, is a really important part of any discussion about what happens to local TV. I think there is an audience for local TV. We see, with local radio and online, an increasing demand for local services that didn’t exist 15 years ago.
In the mid-1990s I was involved in launching a number of different local radio stations, which were very, very small. They broadcast to less than a 100,000 people and everybody thought that they would be a failure, that there wouldn’t be enough advertising revenue and there wouldn’t be enough audience. In fact, one of the stations that I worked for, in the week that I left, was called Spire FM in Salisbury, it’s recent rajars at that time were 50%, across all age groups and all genders and the appeal was not the middle of the road music policy, but the appeal was local news, local information and, dare I say it, even local adverts and local advertising.
Radio gets this and you see that in the growth and the boom of community radio stations that we’re starting to see. The risk is, I think, that TV will get left behind and that radio and other forms of media become more local and TV becomes more and more regionalised, if not to say, nationalised and, therefore, the kind of, the Godfather, if you like, of the creative industries, which is often how TV is portrayed, risks looking more like Joe Pesci than Marlon Brando.
Finally, also, as an appeal for the benefits of local TV, I think it could play a real role in bringing new people into the industry. Whoever you talk to in the creative industries, always says, we need more new people, who are creative, innovative and from different backgrounds, to perhaps many of the people that are here today – not that there’s anything wrong with the people that are here today I hasten to add!
If you haven’t got local TV outlets, and opportunities for people to come in, to be creative, to make mistakes, to learn their trade, to then progress to work for national broadcasters and on national products, then I think our industry will be all the poorer for it.
So I think there’s three, really, kind of key reasons why we need to push for local TV, in terms of talent for our industry, in terms of ensuring that local TV means that services can be reached by everybody on whatever platform they have access to and, certainly, that we’re also meeting audience demand at the same time.