Opinion: Why Preston and Blackpool need local TV

caught on camera

How many times have you sat down in front of BBC North West Tonight or Granada Reports and ended up watching news items about Manchester and Liverpool and assumed that the reason why you’re watching this is because nothing was happening that day in Preston, Southport, Blackpool, Chorley or Leyland?

Speaking as someone who knows how the news works, there probably was plenty of news from our bit of Lancashire that day, but the news editor in deciding what to run in his bulletins had to weigh up two things: The importance of the Manchester or Liverpool news story verses the Preston stories and the ease of the getting that material back to the studio. His or her news values are informed by regional decisions and not local decisions.

What we have in the UK is not local TV but regional TV – an anomaly that came as a result of decisions made in 1955 when ITV was set up. Had the government of the day decided differently, we would have had 60 years of TV programmes made by and for people of Preston. But it never happened.  Surveys have revealed that people do want real local TV that reflects the stories, issues and culture of their immediate locality. They get this is America and Europe – where there are literally hundreds of local TV channels. To quote Jeremy Hunt, Minister for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Birmingham, Alabama has eight local TV channels while Birmingham, UK has none. But the coalition government is changing all that.

By 2014/5 Preston, Blackpool, Chorley, Leyland and Southport will have its own TV channel and TV news. Ribble TV wants to be that channel. It won’t be difficult to find on your TV set either. The next time you flick through freeview’s channels have a look to see what is on channel 8.  It’s a trick question, because there is no channel 8 between BBC 3 on channel 7 and BBC 4 on channel 9. That is where Ribble TV will sit.  Legislation is to be passed this Autumn to make it happen. Sky and Virgin have confirmed that they too will put local TV on their front EPG page too.

So besides the news what will viewers see on Ribble TV? As much as we’d like to give you a sneaky peak of the schedule it’s early days. But there’s the things that people always want from local media – weather, sport and traffic. We can also see talk shows, a football show on a Thursday evening followed by a ‘What’s On’ show; local stand-up comedy and bands on a Friday night; a foodie programme mid-week; the best of entertainment from Blackpool over the weekend.  Asian programming early in the week. Community is important to us too. A weekly, perhaps daily slot handed over to whoever (within reason) want’ s to pick up a camera’s and film something which matters to them: such as an appeal, event or even opinion. But Ribble TV will just have many programmes on that are no different to any other TV channel. The reason being that there will be literally dozens of local TV channels around the UK and we will be sharing the best of our output.

Crucially our schedule would be flexible. If a big news story or event happened on our patch – a fire, festival, even freak weather, then we would go live for as long as it takes. Ribble TV will be the place that you’ll turn to when you desperately need to know what is going on in Preston, Blackpool and the surrounding area. Elections? We’d be all over them too.

It’s going to be paid for largely by advertising. The skeptics amongst you will say that TV is dead – long live the internet.  But you’d be wrong. TV viewing is growing. The average viewer (if there is such a thing) is now watching 51 sec more TV a day than they were a year ago. In 2010 UK adults spent as much time watching TV in 4 days as they did using the web for a month.  And advertising is still the best way to reach people quickly. Pepsi this year switched their advertising back to the US version of X-factor having previously spent it on web advertising.

But we need help. Ribble TV will when it’s up and running will be staffed by a combination of paid professionals and volunteers. But to win the license we need help now – and for free. We need someone for example to update the Ribble TV website (www.ribble.tv), someone with solid business and advertising experience. Maybe someone with a great local contact book or has technical and engineering skills. If you do want to help in any way please get in touch with me on jim@ribble.tv.

Image credit to Tony Worrall

What do you think? Could there be a local TV station in Preston? Would you watch it? What type of shows should be on it? Let us know in the comments below

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