Communications regulator Ofcom has published a report on the prospects for local video content and interactive services in the UK in the digital era.
The report, Digital Local, assesses the viability of various types of local services and notes that in a broadband environment, traditional linear television services are not necessarily the only or even the best way to deliver video and interactive content to audiences.
The emergence of mass-market digital technologies opens up new opportunities for the provision of services that would have been technically impossible as little as ten years ago.
Digital local content could deliver a range of benefits in future, including more relevant local news, improved access to local services and stronger involvement in community affairs.
Broadband, with its powerful interactive and on-demand capabilities, will be particularly important. The report notes that the availability across the UK of services delivered via internet protocol to TV sets within the next year or two offers significant new opportunities for the future.
The BBC has developed proposals for local television services and is already engaged in a pilot project. This will be subject to a market impact assessment and public value test.
Ofcom observes that the role of the BBC is likely to be critical, but could also discourage other potential providers of public service content. The report outlines a number of ways in which the development of other services would be supported.
ITV has launched its own local television pilot, delivered to personal computers over broadband, and announced an extension to its trial.
Ofcom says that radio spectrum will remain a relatively scarce resource, even after digital switchover, and local services may not necessarily be the best possible use. The regulator has launched its Digital Dividend Review to examine the range of options arising from the release of spectrum created by digital switchover.
Meanwhile, culture secretary Tessa Jowell has made it clear that the regulator should have a role in considering new services proposed by the BBC, saying “Ofcom clearly has unrivalled competition expertise in relation to the communications markets, which it would be foolish to try and duplicate.”
Digital Local – options for the future of local video content and interactive services is published by Ofcom.