Showing posts with label local television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label local television. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jeremy Hunt's turkey is plucked

This morning [September 16th] the media regulator Ofcom announced that it has rejected London Live’s proposals to slash its local programming. 

This follows a six-week consultation in which several broadcasters, including Channel 4, Channel 5 and UKTV, severely criticised London Live’s plans. My own comments about this, posted here - were subsequently published in Broadcast Magazine last month. 

All of London Love's proposals were rejected by the regulator, including its plan to slash primetime local content, from three hours to one hour a day. Ofcom said the changes "would result in an unacceptable reduction to the number and range of programmes about the area or locality for the licensed area".  Quite.

Earlier this month, Birmingham's local TV dream died with the demise of BLTV/City TVFor the full Birmingham horror story, see here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

London (almost) Dead - the end of Jeremy Hunt's local TV dream

I hate to say “I told you so,” but I told you so. I’m only surprised that I’m telling you so soon after my last comments here (and here) about what I called Jeremy Hunt’s “crazy initiative for local television”.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

If I Were Jeremy Hunt

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at a conference in Salford where our esteemed Secretary of State for Culture and Media gave the opening keynote address. I was booked to reply the following day in a panel session called “If I Were Jeremy Hunt…”

You have to hand it to Hunt: he’s is a tough act to follow. The packed audience of hardened television and radio professionals rather warmed to his wit and assured confidence. Standing centre stage and tieless in a dark suit (it was a media conference, after all), he spoke without notes or autocue, demonstrating the superior, charming, permasmiled demeanour that can only have derived from a proper boarding school education.  Head boy at Charterhouse School (fees £30,534 per annum), first class degree in PPE at Magdalen College, Oxford, president of the university’s Conservative Association, he's the perfect Tory politician. Before last week’s revelations many spoke of him as Cameron’s natural successor.

The audience in Salford were left in no doubt about Hunt’s unerring conviction that, like the rest of Cameron’s cabinet, he is absolutely right about everything he says. He and his colleagues clearly believe that government policy shouldn't be influenced by people who know what they are talking about: industry experts or doctors or the armed forces, or, God forbid, the lifetime's experience of a cabinet minister’s own civil servants.

Being something of an expert myself – if working within the television industry for 40 years counts as accreditation – I felt justified in disagreeing with some of Hunt's policies, particularly his crazy initiative for local television. This was a man whose first task in Government was to tear up Trinity Mirror's fairly won pilot contract to supply a groundbreaking multi-media news service here in the north east of England and replace it with his own barmy plan to hand out television channels to a load of community groups who are bound to go bust in the process.  Trinity Mirror is, of course, the newspaper group that is Murdoch's biggest competitor in the UK.  A coincidence, I'm sure.

Of course the views of people who could be expected to know what they are talking about have never really been taken into consideration when formulating any of this government's policies, which is why most of them are lying in tatters: instead, the cabinet have relied on “special advisers”, and the tittle-tattle of their exclusive clubs and cocktail parties. This is a government that listens to no one but themselves.

The head of a very large media organisation, who is not called Murdoch, recently told me that their senior editorial team was invited to tea at Downing Street for an informal “consultation”, but ended up listening, sandwich-less, to Dave hectoring them for an hour about his plans. Not one of them was asked a single question.

Back in Salford, I’d written myself quite a formal speech in response to Hunt's comments but, having seen the master in action, I stood in the centre of the stage, took it out of my jacket pocket and quietly ripped it to shreds.  This, I think, got me brownie points and quite a few laughs, after which I attempted to restore some balance to the debate about the future of media in our country. I knew exactly what I’d do if I were Jeremy Hunt, and I told them.  Wasting time on hyperlocal television stations wasn't part of my proposed agenda as the next Secretary of State;  listening to the industry and the viewers most definitely was.

But I confess I was utterly upstaged by the wonderful veteran journalist Gillian Reynolds, who rose to her feet and performed a glorious parody of Hunt himself: she portrayed a man who loves himself more than he’ll ever love the electorate, preening, smiling, perfect, who neither cares nor understands the common man, a professional politician who, like all his cronies in this Coalition, is utterly out of touch with reality. She brought the house down.

What a contrast to see him in the House of Commons last Wednesday: embarrassed, halting, his head buried nervously in a carefully constructed statement, Cameron and Osborne squirming uncomfortably behind him. Here was their own firewall self-combusting in front of them, caught out by his deviously fawning “special adviser” and his own closeness to the Murdoch dynasty, any pretence of “quasi-judicial” impartiality utterly busted.

I guess he’ll try to wriggle out of it to the very end, but I know what I would do right now if I were Jeremy Hunt: I'd resign.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hunt's Folly

The entire audience was hushed: the play had reached its climax. Suddenly the silence was pierced by a lone shrill voice: “Daddy, I want a wee-wee”. Izzy was enjoying her first live theatre show.

Northern Stage’s slick, fun production of “Shhh…A Christmas Story” managed to hold an audience of toddlers spellbound for well over an hour. Izzy’s eyes lit up from the moment she saw the lights, moving scenery and jolly actors.

She sat transfixed, apart from one unscripted moment when, fascinated by some prop snowballs that had been flying around the stage, she ignored our pleas to sit down and strode onstage to retrieve one for herself. The actors merely paused, watched her walk round them, and then carried on. I’d love to have a video of that precious moment.

I guess that’s the sort of home video that will be the mainstay of Jeremy Hunt’s new local television plans. I can’t imagine what else we’ll be watching. Last week the Secretary of State announced that Newcastle had been chosen as one of the first “pioneer” cities to be awarded licences for local stations. Quite why he thinks there’s any demand for this in Newcastle is beyond me. None of the people who are capable of making local television work have agreed to get involved. Perhaps some wannabes have been seduced by the lure of showbusiness. They are about to get a rude awakening.

Jeremy Hunt’s plans are based on his mistaken belief that if cities like Birmingham, Alabama have their own thriving local television stations, then so should Birmingham, West Midlands. And Newcastle, Tyne and Wear. Evidently our Secretary of State doesn’t know how American television actually works. Over there all the successful local stations, which do have strong local news outputs, are owned by or affiliated to the main networks, which supply them with expensive and highly profitable primetime programming. Every big city has at least 5 local stations, carrying shows like Dancing With the Stars and the X-Factor. They transmit network daytime shows and high budget “syndicated” talk shows. They also carry local news in the morning, early evening and late night.

Sounds familiar? We’ve actually had that system in the UK since the 1950s. It’s called ITV. Until it was systematically ruined by Thatcher’s disastrous reforms, we had good local programmes through our own Tyne Tees Television, which also carried all the hits of the ITV network. Sure, it was regional, not local, but at least it gave our area a sense of identity, was independently owned, and supplied us with quality regional news.

In 2010 the Labour government tried to turn regional into local, by creating a local news pilot scheme. The concept was simple, and probably economically sound: give the ITV regional news to new local providers to create an integrated operation working on a regional, local and hyper-local level. In the North East, the licence was won by a consortium that included the daily newspaper I write a column for: The Journal. The newspaper’s newsroom would have become multi-media, enabling users to enjoy not only better regional news on ITV, but also enjoyed layers of information in print, on the web and on your mobile phone – you could even type your postcode into a computer and find information about your own community.

It was a 21st century solution that would also have been sustainable. As in America, network shows would have driven audiences to the regional output; just two commercial breaks around the regional news would have funded most of the cost and the service would have been built around a proven and profitable newsgathering operation. Good journalism requires investment, training, rigour and professionalism. You are reading the proof of this right now. Sadly, Jeremy Hunt stubbornly axed this bold experiment and replaced it with his own harebrained, old-fashioned plan for local stations.

I can’t imagine a single advertiser supporting an amateur station with cheap low-quality videos. Shots of Izzy running onstage to collect snowballs may be fun viewing for me, but it’s hardly going to compete with Strictly Come Dancing, is it? Without expertise, viewers or advertisers, Hunt’s Folly is bound to fail.