In My Opinion: Courtnay McLeod: What prospects for the Edinburgh and Glasgow local TV channels?

BY October, Edinburgh and Glasgow will have their own local television stations, which sounds, well, very nice.

Surely, both cities will benefit from a new service gathering and sharing stories that may otherwise have been ignored. Let’s ignore the fact that the stories were probably ignored for a reason, and let’s also ignore the trail of failed local TV stations. Let’s celebrate the venture that’s being led by STV, because, with everything crossed, it might just work.

The venture becomes more attractive given the role it could play in supporting education. STV is partnering with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University – both ideal partners in many ways, particularly given the strength of their academic teams and talented students. This could be a real opportunity to improve work-based learning and ensure graduates develop the necessary employability skills throughout their studies.

So, why then does my heart sink at the sound of these digital terrestrial licences?

The first reason is chit chat – or a lack of it. Despite living in the Central Belt for some 36 years, I haven’t heard anyone mention wanting a local TV station. And even now, a week or so after the announcement, if I step away from my media colleagues, I discover my friends and family aren’t talking about this.

Is there really a will from local people for this type of service? The key to answering this is unpicking the pledge that ETV and GTV will “provide an innovative television service to the communities they serve, complementing STV’s existing broadcast, online and mobile services”. What will be the innovative bit? It’ll need to be earth shatteringly good to capture the attention of a population already swimming in news output and perhaps too busy to notice an extra service.

Let’s be honest, radio has pretty much captured the market on local news. BBC and commercial stations have established roots, strong relationships with listeners, are well trusted for quality output and report local news quickly.

In addition, people are accessing high-quality community news online, with content that increasingly includes video.

And, of course, people are living with constant online feeds, searches and apps.

All of this takes away the incentive to sit down and tune into a local TV station. So whatever the innovative trick is, it will be competing against established and already respected output.

At the heart of my reservation is something I almost don’t want to mention because it’s such an old fashioned thing to say – ‘communities’ and ‘boundaries’ are changing. We all know this, there is nothing revolutionary here, but it might suggest that the time isn’t right for these terrestrial licences.

Of course, people will always have an increased interest with what is happening in their street – that’s natural but it can’t be rolled out as a news value in the way it once was. Proximity won’t stop being a primary news value, but its influence is shifting, its meaning needs redefined. People are less and less likely to define ‘local’ interests based around postcodes.

Bah hum bug to me. Perhaps I am over-analysing the obstacles, attitudes, trends and lack of chit chat. Maybe people will choose to sit and watch local TV news in this way. It would be nice if they did, but what are the chances?

Courtnay McLeod is director of the Scottish Media Academy and regularly teaches broadcast journalism at various universities and colleges, with special interests in media convergence issues and broadcast writing styles.