Ofcom has released a report exploring the technical options for the start of regular local TV services across the UK. Despite a number of failed attempts to establish genuinely local TV broadcasts in Britain, the government has made it clear that the establishment of local TV is a policy priority, and has established an inquiry led by media banker Nicholas Shott.
The Ofcom report gives a comparison of the costs and benefits of four different platforms: terrestrial, cable, satellite and broadband. It does not consider how spectrum or existing capacity could be secured for local television, which it says is a matter for government.
Ofcom has produced a list of 25 urban areas including the four UK nations capital cities and 21 of the largest urban areas where local TV might be feasible. It has also carried out a comparison of the possible delivery methods.
Satellite can provide a single channel number for convenience, but there are potential costs in drawing up new regional boundaries, and additional expense in broadcasting to large areas of the UK where the service would not be relevant. Cable offers the ability to provide localised services, but a subscription would be required, and service would be restricted to the 50% of the UK passed by cable. It is also where local TV projects such as Wire TV and Associated Newspapers’ Channel One have failed in the past.
Broadband offers a low cost entry that can be scaled to demand, but the uptake of broadband and the general inability to actually view such services on the TV is seen as problematic, at least for the time being. It is significant that United for Local Television (ULTV), the industry association of local TV operators in the UK, has asked Ofcom to fully investigate Project Canvas/YouView.
Terrestrial delivery may provide the best option through new local geographic interleaved multiplexes would be able to run from existing sites. The approach is not completely flexible as coverage would be limited in some areas, but the absolute and opportunity costs of the approach are low. It might also be possible for the channels to have carriage in an existing public service multiplex or in a new multiplex released after analogue switch off.
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