Guest post about Local Video Online over at Talk About Local

William Perrin very kindly asked if I would produce a guest post for the Talk About Local blog looking at Local Video Online, a less well know part of the hyper-local ecology.

This, I have duly done, and the article went online here earlier today.

I’ve also pasted the full text below. What the post shows is that there’s perhaps more of this activity going on than many people realise. I’m sure there’s plenty of other examples that I don’t yet know about, so if I’ve missed anything out, it would be great if you could bring it to my attention!

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Earlier in the Summer Ofcom published its annual Communications Market Report, a detailed document which shows the state of the Nation (or Nations plural) in all matters communications.

Major trends identified by the report included; simultaneous media consumption (often referred to in the past as media stacking) the rise of smart phones and the resilience of traditional television. In the UK today, the average person watches 3 hours and 45 minutes of TV per day.

It also showed that broadband take up in the UK now stood at 71% of households, up from 31% in 2005. This growth has enabled existing forms of broadcast content to be consumed in new ways, as well as allowing internet only propositions to emerge.

One example of this contained within the document is online local video services. These services are typically consumed at home, or increasingly via smartphones. Over a quarter of people in the UK (26.5 per cent) said they have a smartphone, more than double the number two years ago.

Until recently, perhaps the best known online video service was Kent TV. However, this pilot service closed on 31st March 2010. In recent weeks Witney TV has been thrust into the spotlight after the Guardian picked up on an interview the site had done with Jeremy Clarkson, during which the Top Gear presenter revealed that ‘Stig’ had been sacked.

The Independent reported that Witney TV had 10,000 views in the first week, rising to 80,000, and staggering 3.5 million views in the week when Jeremy Clarkson told them: “You may remember a film called Wall Street in which Gordon Gekko said ‘Greed is good, greed works’. Well it doesn’t… He’s history as far as we’re concerned.”

Not bad for a town with a population of about 25,000. It’s not even the only online video service for the area, with Twitney also providing a platform for local people in West Oxfordshire to tell their stories.

For content creators, the appeal of such sites is the relative ease with which they can be set up. Equipment to shoot and edit video material is cheaper than ever, and online video services don’t need a licence from Ofcom, nor do they need to adhere to the Broadcasting Code.

As more people go online the potential audience – and advertising market – for these sites grows. Twitney, for example, offers sponsors the chance to be featured the start and end of films, or to buy traditional online banner ads, as well as commissioned features.

And of course not all local online video services cover areas of this size. Some, like Lakes TV in Cumbria, cover a much bigger patch. In this instance, Lakes TV offers a broad mix of content about the Lakes and nearby towns such as Barrow and Penrith. Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, myCornwall.tv – which has benefitted from such high profile supporters as The Eden Project, Jamie’s Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant, and South West Tourism – aims “to capture the very best of all things Cornish on the internet, using video and social media.”

Arguably such an ambition means myCornwall.tv isn’t just targeting a specific local geographic community, it’s also looking at reaching a community of interest. This is a label which can also be applied to bdaily, which offers a mix of audio visual content – including podcasts, video, social media and web based text services – to reach businesses in the North East of England. At present, just under 7,500 people and businesses are subscribing to the daily service.

However, I think these larger scale services tend to be in the minority. Most of the sites that I’m aware of, like MONTV, an online website providing “Local Television for Monmouthshire”, cover a relatively small – and carefully defined – area.

Launched in 2008 MONTV features a weekly 15 minute news bulletin as well as a range of other content such as local Sport, Music, Festivals and human interest stories. Typically MONTV gets 1,000 users a day, but at busy times such as Festivals this can increase by 300%. After securing some initial funding from the local Council and other sources, MonTV is run (voluntarily) by two professional filmmakers, as well as a growing band of volunteers – some of whom give up to 15 hours a week of their time to help with filming, editing and scheduling. Last December it recorded its millionth visitor.

A lot of the content is generated by students who undertake a City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma at the station; with coursework being showcased in the “Mon TV Academy” . Many graduates stay on as volunteers once their course has ended.

The training model can be a useful income generator. Chris Haydon’s Southwark.TV is just one example of a project which has supported local people to make their own local videos. Building on Chris’ expertise as a broadcast professional, the project has worked with a range of people from across the community to produce films about – or from – the local area.

In contrast, Kings Cross TV has mixed original content with video material pulled in from across the web, but freely available on sites like YouTube and blip.tv. Whilst Camden.tv takes a different approach still, actively encouraging members of the community to submit films about their area, and acting as a curator for content across a broad range of themes including history, music and politics.

North of London in the Home Counties, Craig MacKenzie who has been running two online hyper-local website for the past decade (Discover Hertford and Ware Online) recently added a community video site to his portfolio; Hertsweb.tv. Craig, who works full time for the NHS and has two children, shoots video for the site and edits it at home. During the General Election he recorded and streamed hustings live, using a vision mixer he had bought on eBay for £50. After a local business gave £300 for a community camera, other groups are also shooting material, getting the camera for free, in return for creating content for the site.

What these examples show is that there is no such thing as a typical online local video service. It’s not an homogenous entity any more than any other type of hyper-local service is.

I’m always excited to find out about new local video sites, so if you know of any examples in your area, then it would be great to hear about them. Do tell us about them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to check them out.

Damian Radcliffe is the Manager for English Regions at Ofcom.

He is writing in a personal capacity.

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