That’s TV, which operates 20 of the 34 local television stations in the United Kingdom, is to close 13 of its studios and consolidate its output from seven regional centres, delivering news for up to six local stations. It could be viewed as the failure of the vision for local television of the former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
News for Scotland will be based in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Services in the north of England will be based in Manchester and York, while services for the South will be based in Cambridge and Salisbury, with Wales served by Swansea.
Services for Basingstoke in Hampshire, Guildford in Surrey, Oxford, Reading, and Southampton will all be served from Salisbury in Wiltshire, which is hardly local.
That’s TV says it will retain reporters in all 20 areas and that news items and interviews will be recorded in the licence area of each service and links recorded in the studio.
The communications regulator Ofcom took the financial difficulties the sector faces into account when agreeing the change and does not consider that this will result in a difference in local content received by viewers.
“Ofcom is satisfied that the proposal will allow That’s TV to continue to deliver its commitments to its viewers, specifically with regard to maintaining a local presence in the area of each licensed serviced,” it said.
Ofcom said that while the number of studios or main production basis will reduce the commitment for journalists and reporters to continue to collect, develop and record interviews on location within the licensed area of each service means that the local presence for each service included in this request will continue to be maintained.
Plans to establish a network of local television stations were key element of the policy of the former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, currently a contender for Prime Minister.
As he has been keen to emphasise, he has a background as an entrepreneur, gaining £14 million from his 48% share in the sale of the company Hotcourses he founded with a friend.
Announcing his plans for local television back in 2011 he had said “People in Chelmsford are not interested in what is happening in Watford.”
Now it seems people in Maidstone in Kent will be watching local news from a studio over a hundred miles away in Salisbury.
It is difficult to see how this is an improvement on the coverage provided by local news from the BBC or ITV, except that it is seen by far fewer viewers.
In 2017, only 17 of the 34 licenced local channels had their audiences measured by BARB and between them they achieved a weekly average of only 1.6 million homes watching for at least three consecutive minutes.
Ofcom has noted that the local television sector faces challenges in generating income and delivering its programming commitments.
Funding from the BBC accounted for a quarter of local television income in 2017, following the government decision to use licence fee money to help fund local television for a limited period of time, although those funding streams have either ended or are ending.
The future for very local television in the United Kingdom looks increasingly uncertain, in a world where communities of interest are increasingly forming online.