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Can Local TV Succeed Where it Previously Failed?

Can Local TV Succeed Where it Previously Failed?

Grimsby, a British town in Lincolnshire, made broadcasting history this November with the launch of 'Estuary TV' – the first of the U.K.'s new network of such channels being launched under the 'Local TV' brand. Kicking-off with a news bulletin about regional sports teams, the new channel offers a blend of ultra-local news, sports, entertainment, and politics – including a regular slot for quizzing regional Members of Parliament on pressing, local matters.

Active engagement from the local community is at the heart of what the new local TV channel is trying to do – and it will also be fundamental to its success. Indeed, local television opens up new possibilities for viewers to have a direct influence on the types of programming they're offered. But is demand for this content actually strong, and is this type of broadcasting sustainable?

In order to gauge whether the U.K. is in the grips of a TV revolution, it's worth looking back at what has come before – history, after all, repeats itself, and the world of broadcasting is no exception. The concept of local TV is not a new one. And it's one which hasn't experienced great success in the U.K. – check out this BBC footage of the now defunct Channel One, and the idiosyncratic Greenwich Cablevision from the '70s (complete with local poet!).

So why have past efforts failed? Undoubtedly there's the financial challenge associated with launching and maintaining a local channel. 'Local TV' will be funded by a combination of advertising, sponsorship and a commercial agreement with the BBC, though some commentators are unconvinced a viable advertising model is in place. But with the cost of advertising on national TV sill prohibitively high for small, local businesses – combined with the appeal of a geographically relevant audience – there's ample room for getting monetisation right.

But today's TV environment is a far cry from that at the turn of the millennium, which marked the launch of one of the more recent attempts at local broadcasting (Manchester's now-extinct Channel M). We're now spending more than two hours daily on connected devices, and we're consuming content in diverse ways, using multiple devices together to complement our viewing experiences.

In this landscape, sharing relevant content with viewers at the right time and in the right place is vital. Key to winning over the consumer is not only first-rate content, but unified, innovative experiences across all screens. To stay relevant and escape the fate of its predecessors, 'Local TV' must not only deliver personalised, geographically relevant programming, it must also address the different ways in which we're consuming content.

'London Live'
– London's 'Local TV' channel, set to launch in March – will be the true test of this. With backing from the London Evening Standard, it's a far more ambitious project than other local channels. While all 'Local TV' channels will have an all-important online video offering, London Live, will also launch across mobile, tablets, taxis and other outdoor media.

A top-ten position on the electronic programme guide (Channel 8 on Freeview in England and Northern Ireland) will undoubtedly put the 'Local TV' channels on a good footing, initially. But only by responding to today's viewing habits will this latest wave of community channels reignite passion for on-your-doorstep TV. If 'Local TV' is able to drive personal programming further still by using baseline information about a user's viewing context and preferences, it could be onto a winner.