A planned network of local TV stations could see an end to the Central Tonight news programme. Jon Griffin speaks to a firm hoping to be a part of a regional TV revolution.
New local TV stations in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Shrewsbury and Stoke are proposed in the “biggest change to broadcasting for nearly 30 years”.
The vision of post-analogue TV – with community slots encompassing everything from DIY X Factor-style shows to local sports groups and councils – is set to edge closer to reality next month.
And the public face behind the vision, Richard Horwood, chief executive of Channel 6, has told the Birmingham Post of plans for a string of local stations, with Birmingham at the forefront of the January 2013 launch.
The local plans will be underpinned by Channel 6, a new national network set up to deliver local news across the UK, but also act as the sixth public service broadcaster.
Former newspaper executive Mr Horwood said: “We are not just talking news – there is this image of village green news of a cat stuck up a tree which does not make great TV. We are talking an entertainments format, X-Factor-style material, quizzes, sports, current affairs, drama even.
“You can make money out of a national network with local affiliates. I have been talking to potential investors for some months now and there is a lot of interest.
“This is the biggest change to TV since the early 80s, and the launch of Channel Four. It may be the last opportunity as well because of the switching off of the analogue supply.”
Mr Horwood said Channel 6 would drive the local stations through its commercial revenues.
“We are fiercely commercial, we are about making money from TV, not taking money from the state.
‘‘Under our model, we run the national programmes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with opt-out slots. These programmes will run alongside Channel 6, and we will subsidise them by paying for the cost of broadcasting.’’
The BBC will provide a one-off capital investment of £25 million for engineers and equipment, with a subsequent £5 million a year for three years. By 2017, the new channel aims to run 39 local stations providing news and content on Freeview, cable and satellite.
In Birmingham, the plan is for a station serving a million homes in the conurbation. Other stations are in the pipeline at Wolverhampton, Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Shrewsbury.
Mr Horwood said: “I have never seen a market that is so open to a new player. This will create around 650 jobs in total, mostly outside London.”
He said he was confident advertisers would back the project.
“TV advertising is very robust, it has not been touched by the internet. It’s a mass market, high-impact advertising medium.
“The key thing is that in order to make TV commercially successful, it has to be of broadcast quality because otherwise advertisers will not buy and viewers will not watch.”
Other potential bidders to compete with Channel Six have to submit expressions of interest by March 1.