I was among a few dozen media people from across the north west invited to hear Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt explain more about his plans for local TV at a summit in Manchester on Friday.
The meeting followed the government’s recent announcement that a potential 65 new stations could be established, including one in Manchester, which would cover Oldham and, presumably, Saddleworth too.
Mr Hunt, who has made local TV a key focus of his efforts since taking office last year, said he believed more stations would improve democracy, help small businesses by giving them an advertising outlet, and stimulate the creative industries.
On the democracy point, it’s been widely suggested that local stations based around an individual city, town or community, would be able to offer the sort of scrutiny of local councils and public bodies that existing regional news programmes like Granada Reports can’t or won’t do.
There’s certainly some grumbling about aspects of the plans, though. The planned stations would be available on digital terrestrial TV, in other words, through your Freeview box. The cities and towns which would get the stations are those with enough spectrum capacity from transmitters, leaving others without.
Some people involved in the industry believe that instead of setting up TV stations on digital terrestrial, it would be better to focus on so-called IPTV, under which programmes would be delivered to your TV using the internet.
IPTV services are likely to become more commonplace in the years ahead, leaving some to argue that the transmitter-based local TV stations envisaged by Mr Hunt might soon become obsolete. Addressing this point, Mr Hunt said he “didn’t want to wait” for IPTV, which would need faster broadband to become truly effective, adding that he saw digital terrestrial as offering a “headstart” and a “transition” to a future in which we’ve all got IPTV.
Mr Hunt added that once IPTV-based telly is much more widespread, perhaps in a decade or so, he foresaw Greater Manchester having ten or more of its own local TV stations, not just the one included in the current proposals.
What this means for Saddleworth is that any prospect of an ultra-local Saddleworth or Oldham or Pennines (or whatever) TV, available on the box in the corner of your living room, is probably ten years or more away. Services such as the Saddleworth News TV programmes made by this website with The Oldham College, and hosted on YouTube, appear to be the best we’ll get for the time being.
However, it’ll be fascinating to see what form the proposed Manchester channel takes, and which company or companies wins the licence to broadcast it. The first of the local TV services is expected to be on the air in 2013.
More information about the proposals is a vailable from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport here.
Past Saddleworth News TV bulletins can still be watched here.