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Local TV Must Have News at Its Heart

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VAUXHALL
AP

The wider population might not know about it yet but the UK is about to get a taste of something new as TV stations spring up in a host of cities across the country; and as these long-mooted plans for local TV become a reality I'm sure that people's appetite for programmes about and for their city will become apparent.

TV regulator Ofcom has now named which stations will be broadcasting in most of the selected cities, with just a handful yet to be announced. Like Jasmine Dotiwala, who recently wrote for The Huffington Post on this topic, I've got a vested interest in the impending naming of London's local TV station as ITN is part of one of the bids for this important venture.

With the announcement due in a matter of weeks, I'm at one with the politicians, who right from the start of this process, said that news programming should be a key element to the remit and success of local television. Of course, the rest of a channel's content outside of news needs to be engaging for it to win over viewers, but for me, there are two reasons why news stands out as particularly important: a) news drives repeat viewing. You only have to look at the value online and mobile portals place on news content to see the evidence for this. Local television which puts regular news at its core will stand the best chance of delivering the highest number of viewers and b) there is an appetite across the general population for niche news, which in the case of local TV will be about their city and immediate surroundings.

With this mindset, it's a natural step that a company like ITN - already an established producer of international, national, regional and multi-platform news - should be part of what I consider to be the best bid going. Many months on from our first discussions, ITN Productions sits as an integral part of the London8 bid comprising big industry names Riverside Studios, Time Out, Press Association and MeteoGroup and led by people with real experience of running media and TV businesses. People like former Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson. What ITN brings to this party is the trusted brand of the UK's commercial television news supplier, combined with a host of new newsgathering and presenting models. In fact, we're the only news production company associated with any of the bids with experience of making television news, so I'm confident that we can deliver that vital news programming better than anyone else. In fact, if we get the chance we had better do so seeing as the London8 bid has the highest quota of news than any other tender for the London licence.

For local TV it will be crucial to deliver quality news programming, but it needs to be innovative and distinctive so it complements the other TV news that people already watch. Local TV's contribution to media plurality will be both traditional and groundbreaking - dedicated teams of journalists getting stories, shooting footage and producing bulletins, but also embracing and leading change by livestreaming of events or breaking news stories and hosting Google Hangouts for lively and accessible debate. Stories such as the recent helicopter crash in Vauxhall show how newsgathering has changed irrevocably, and that the future for news is an operation that sources the best in user generated content, adds in its own locally produced material, and most importantly validates and delivers this under a trusted and familiar brand which consumers trust.

There's no end to how this can be achieved at a local level with communities and people at the heart of the content. A mash-up of user generated content, diverse contributors, social media expertise and daily hangouts has notched up over eleven thousand subscribers and nearly two million hits to our citizen journalism YouTube channel Truthloader since it launched in November. The experience of achieving this with a global community on YouTube excites me even more about the prospect of hopefully producing TV news for the city of London.

In the late 90s I was involved in a small but pioneering local radio project where the current KM Network split the radio transmitter service between Dover and Folkestone to allow broadcasting of different bulletins to the two towns. Separated by just seven miles but each with communities who wanted news tailored to them, the listeners were impressed with this experiment and so was that year's industry awards circuit. Hyper-local, local and regional can be produced together and will attract an audience if they are produced from the trusted ITN stable.

The local radio model was compelling, and 15 years on, with the technology, infrastructure, political will and disruptive change in the way people consume content, it will be again. Obviously I hope that London8 wins the London licence so we can play our part it delivering this new model of news to the capital.

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