A new bid to change the face of television in Birmingham has been unveiled – backed by broadcasting stalwarts Gary Newbon and Mike Owen.
Former Central TV sports presenter Mr Newbon and ex-BRMB executive Mr Owen are two members of a high-profile consortium behind YourTV, the latest bidders for a new Government-backed TV licence.
If YourTV’s bid is accepted by regulators Ofcom, 16 hours of local programming encompassing everything from news to sport, cookery and the arts will be available to city viewers.
But the YourTV bid is certain to face rival challenges, including the long-established City TV, whose team includes former Birmingham City Council public relations executive Debra Davis and city business figure Derek Inman.
Birmingham is among 20 sites earmarked for city-based TV, a new approach to local broadcasting which has been heavily endorsed by the Government and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Winning applications will be announced in the autumn, and the first batch of new stations are planned to be up and running by 2013.
Gary Newbon, Central’s Controller of Sport for 22 years before leaving to join Sky in 2004 told the Birmingham Post the public appetite for local TV was apparent.
“You would have all the stuff that the TV companies are currently not doing, such as sport, the Hippodrome, everything local. We would aim to cover Birmingham from top to bottom.
“I don’t want to give too much away but I believe there is a huge gap in the market. I left to join Sky when I couldn’t see a future for local sport under Granada.”
Mr Newbon dismissed fears local TV could kill off other media.
“When I first came here there was terrible rivalries but the arrival of YourTV is not going to kill off newspapers, for example.
“When you run something from London, it does not work regionally. This is going to stand on its own and be on its own. There is a lot at stake here, and I think that the timing is right.”
Nationwide plans for local TV will see the BBC provide capital investment of £15 million on transmission infrastructure, plus a commitment of £5 million a year for three years to buy programmes.
Mr Newbon, aged 67, said: “I have been very impressed with the people involved in this. My contract with Sky is very important to me but there is also time for me to devote to YourTV.
“I want to work for Sky as long as they want me to but I know that I will have the time to make the necessary contribution to this.”
Fellow YourTV team member Stuart Reed, originally from Solihull, who became Finance Director at Chiltern Radio and founded Choice FM, said: “This will be modest to start with. If we try to compete with the likes of the BBC or ITV, we will not win. We need to be lean and mean to start with.
“My background is starting up commercial radio stations and the numbers and infrastructure here are not that different to a radio station. The start-up costs are manageable – you do not need thousands of square feet of studio space. We are not talking mega-budget drama here.”
Mr Reed said YourTV had already attracted City backers, while other corporate investors could be brought on board at a later stage.
“The business model is that YourTV will underwrite the station if necessary and fund the whole thing to get it up and running.
"YourTV has the ability to underwrite the whole thing, but local investors are encouraged to participate. It’s a private company at this stage. We think that is the route to success. We are working on a five-year projection and we would look to break even within two years.”
Mr Reed said the Government was firmly behind the concept of local TV and questioned previous plans for a national broadcaster with limited local opt-outs.
“Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is very enthusiastic and he is driving this against all opposition.
"We have thrown our hat into the ring – we believe a national spine is wrong and that local TV stands in its own right as the way to come together for supporting roles such as news, commissioning programmes, sales operations etc. This is bottom up instead of top down – we would offer 16 hours a day of local programmes. We would start off with 25 programme staff and some administrative staff.
“We will start with a realistic, viable basis for the business from which we can continue to build our production and training opportunities as we become established.
“Meanwhile, our primary task is to engage with the DCMS and Ofcom as we run up to the award of the licences.
“This is going to be on the front page of Freeview. It gives broadcasters a unique position to gain ground. We have already looked at one or two premises but we are not committed to any one location.”
Other members of the YourTV consortium include TV executive Jim Manson, former broadcast regulator and media consultant Lin Glover, and TV producer Raj Ram.