Thursday, September 25, 2008

Regional TV and Local TV: the impossibility of getting it right on commercial broadcasting

Don't get me wrong: I think it sucks that ITV is intending - with permission - to scale back its regional Public Service Broadcasting obligations. [Of course its a moot point how many people watch the commercial TV equivalent of the various BBC regional broadcast news but still...]

Nevertheless, whilst I sympathise with audiences for being offered increasingly less than local TV news from the commercial companies, there are core problems with ever getting this sort of thing balanced -- especially once cost issues are factored in.

Because for a location population, news is scarcely ever local enough, whilst from a practical and fiscal perspective the very best that can be offered has to be regional. The clue is in the language: the latter is inevitably broader in terms of geography; the former may not be driven by population numbers.*

I still recall the old ATV midlands region - covering everything from Shropshire to Stoke, Oxford to Peterborough, Skegness to Gloucester. Birmingham and Nottingham tended to dominate, but what a woolly nonsense it was to try and cover such an area in one bulletin. Thing is though, that for many people even the current - and generally rather more focused - BBC news regions aren't local enough. I'm not saying that there would be much to fill many bulletins if north Nottinghamshire had its own broadcasts, but there is certainly a temptation - and probably evidence - to believe that audiences there are mentally switched off by what's going on in Lincolnshire or the ends of Leicestershire and Rutland. And East Midlands TV is hardly a massive regional area - geographically or in terms of population.

So poor old Borders and Tyne Tees being lumped together. That's virtually a return to the worst days ATV midlands days, and then some. But in cost terms, it's increasingly a struggle for commercial TV to justify the costs of its public service remits. Solutions to maintain what is currently provided - scarcely great but at least something - will continue to be costly. And in the end ploughing more money in would probably mean indirect public subsidy for commercial profit-making** bodies.

Now where are we hearing that sort of activity at the moment?

*For better or for worse, London is an almost impossible area to cover: as the capital of England many things whose equivalent elsewhere in the country would only have local effects/significance, in London take on national significance in terms of impact -- e.g. tube/local rail network strikes.

** Arguably though the commercial broadcasters are not making any profits at the moment...

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