I suspect I’m last to the party in terms of blogging about the 1000 Flowers conference organised by Rick Waghorn in Norwich last week. Suzanne Kavanagh from Skillset has blogged here, Harry Harrold is here on the 1000 Flowers website and Joseph Stashko here.
It was organised by Waghorn to get people together to discuss what exactly the options were for the future of ‘local TV’ and where the hyperlocal movement could potentially fit in. Prior to the general election, Labour’s solution to independent local TV news was the Independently Funded News Consortia, which would have seen various media parties come together to produce the bulletins we currently get from ITV.
Will Perrin, founder of Talk About Local as one of the IFNC judges said at the time that IFNC’s would have been good news for hyperlocal sites. I was involved on the edges with the Channel 3 bid put in by, among others, my employer Trinity Mirror and the Press Association. Hyperlocal sites would certainly been at the heart of that – had it come to pass.
As it is, the Tories are keen on the idea of local TV, although quite exactly what form it will take has yet to be made clear. We know there is £25million to be funded from the BBC, but how will it be spent? Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has talked about the potential for the BBC to partner with dozens of town and village level local TV providers, but in what form is not clear. Is the government still wedded to transmitters, or is it happy for that TV to be provided online?
The panels and discussions were wide-ranging, and what follows is just a number of thoughts I had at the time and since then, including what felt like an eternity on an East Midlands Train (I will never moan about Virgin Trains again – or at least not for a week or two):
- How will it make money? If a network of local TV services are to be developed across the country, then it’s reasonable to assume that they need to make money. After all, it’s one thing for hyperlocal sites to start in the community, it’s quite another for the government to assume people will provide a service it endorses for the love of their community. One innovative idea was shown by Oldham College, which produces what it describes as a ‘podcast’ for local radio station The Revolution in which advertisers get to talk a bit about their products. At the moment, it’s an add-on to existing sales packages. The problem I see here is the number of views it has had. On Youtube, it’s 30 in six months. If that has led to a sale, then it more than covers its costs, but has it?
- What do advertisers want? There are a number of hyperlocal sites in the country which make money, and Suffolk brewer Adnams attended the event. Adnams say they’d love to advertise next to local content, but when asked what sort of content they’d be interested in the response was one which many will be familiar with: lots of things they didn’t want to be next to, not what they did actually want.
- What role could national advertiser play here? Misguided as I am, I’d assumed the prospect of a national advertiser recognising the value of hyperlocal sites, be they text or video, would be great news for all concerned. Not so – while some sites would happily take adverts from Sainsbury’s Local, others in Norwich said they’d rather put pins in their eyes and will only take local advertisers.
- What will local TV need to become for it to be worthwhile for hyperlocals? Again, the prospect of a share, no matter how small, of £25million was one I thought many hyperlocal sites would like but it was the strings which could be attached which seemed to bother many more – how bogged down in regulation would it become? Some existing TV services said they’d rather stay outside of the Local TV tent to preserve their independence.
- Who is local TV for? Clarke Willis, former chairman of the East of England Audience Panel for the BBC Trust, made the point that the vast majority of listeners to county-level BBC local radio were over 55. So who is Local TV for and what can it do differently to ensure more people tune in? Is being more local enough?
- Has the BBC cracked the linking issue? I was asked to be on one of the panels about partnerships and regulation and it was a wide-ranging discussion. The mood I got from the conference was that many hyperlocal news sites would rather the BBC did other things to help them, liking linking more effectively, before helping them with TV.
- Does hyperlocal and local TV have to come ‘from the bottom up?’ Several times I heard the suggestion that any local TV or hyperlocal project was doomed to fail if it came from the top down rather than from the bottom up. I’m not sure I agree with this. If top-down assumes everything is the same in every place, then it will fail. Otherwise, I’m not so sure.
- Is there a way for traditional media and hyperlocals to work together? I hope so, and I think so. The early indications from those involved in the Birmingham Mail Communities project are that the hyperlocal sites involved feel they are getting something out of it. I’ve seen similar sentiments expressed about The Guardian Local project too. Exploring working together in a local TV context is something I’d like to do.
- And a word about STV’s hyperlocal plans: It was nice to hear of a new hyperlocal project, in the form of STV’s plans for Scotland. Their plans could be described as top-down, but they could work. There was a lot of praise for the fact they are tying their hyperlocal areas into council boundaries, as this makes the service more appealing for public sector advertisers but to the user, a local authority boundary can be just as irrelevant as a newspaper’s circulation area – in fact more so, given that many newspapers expanded to fit the communities they served.
Finally, I also learnt that a fraught train journey while being knocked about by a new course of antibiotics combined with sitting on a very brightly-lit stage can make me look very ill – as this picture snapped from the audience shows. Hopefully I still made sense!