Jeremy Hunt and his team at DCMS have pulled a real rabbit out of the hat in the dying hours of the spending review. According the Guardian this afternoon, the BBC:
‘..will provide £150m a year for the rollout of superfast broadband to rural areas from 2013 and £25m a year for local TV and online content. A further one-off capital investment in local TV and online services of £25m will also come from the licence fee and the BBC will also underwrite the rollout of the digital radio network nationally.’
Hunt’s proposals simply to regulate an entire local video market into existence were looking iffy, but with some money on the table the game changes. Talk about local has worked with genuinely local online local information and news sites up and down the country. I was on the selection panel for the IFNC. Here’s some quick reactions and challenges for the BBC battered out late at night while recovering from the ‘flu- please excuse any errors or omissions – will update as more news emerges:
- set a new paradigm for regulation – none of the online services i talk to want to be regulated in the baroque way that developed over 50 years for truly mass audiences. Even WitneyTV cited by Jeremy Hunt doesn’t want the faff of being regulated to get on a transmitter. With small audiences you need much lighter regulation. As with other aspects of policy set by the coalition government it’s about moving from rules to trust. For the BBC this might mean some sort of local enclave where simple common sense rules apply to achieve working impartiality. I don’t think the government can actually tell you how to regulate – use your independence to show that it isn’t necessary to carry on as if every item has 10 million viewers, when they in fact have ten and a huge choice of competing views instead of just two as in the 1950s.
- be really local in the natural meaning of the word – local news is about my street, village, town – not the vast area covered by a single transmitter or the colossal and often irrelevant region. Use the privilege of not having to make a profit to do something genuinely non commercial. Locally, the values and needs are quite different. Think say council ward, maybe a borough not a constituency. If i go to the local shops in Northampton I don’t drive to Norwich, which is where my local TV news mainly comes from if i live in N’ton.
- shift medium – local online content is about text, still images and a little audio – video is a minority activity on local sites mainly because it is too time consuming to make (even with a Flip). Don’t take ‘TV’ too literally – move away from the TV heritage and embrace the web – like Audioboo as one or two of your radio stations are.
- change production values – think Dogme and Kevin Smith not Pixar and Baz Lurhmann. Technical fetishism is a huge component of high production costs. Try to do the whole thing without a single studio or makeup artist. More evolution of dance than strictly come dancing.
- make content produced with your money freely reusable by all comers – including local papers under a creative commons licence allowing commercial and non commercial reuse. Give potential complainants something commercially useful
- get out of the traditional media hothouse locations – set up in Wisbech or Wellingborough or Wellington
- please please please don’t try and stretch the DTTV platform at huge cost to something it isn’t intended to do by going really local down to individual transmitters – invest in the local web, costs a fraction. I’m sure you won’t set up a new web platform – use wordpress.com as even Microsoft does, it’s free. Invest in people’s skills capital not technical hardware. [this para edited slightly shortly after publication to correct]
- Find a way for tiny providers to get onto Youview without signing their life away or needing a lawyer
That’s it for now.
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