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UK comms regulator Ofcom has awarded the licence to operate the new local TV multiplex on digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to local infrastructure co-operative Comux.
The multiplex operator will be responsible for building and maintaining the technical infrastructure required to broadcast the 19 local TV services currently being licensed by Ofcom. The award follows legislation enabling Ofcom to issue local TV licences.
The licence has been awarded for a period of 12 years. Ofcom expects that the multiplex operator will set up the required infrastructure so that some local TV channels can be on air before the end of 2013.
Comux is required to cover all of the initial 19 local TV locations and applicants were also asked to propose additional areas to cover. Applicants could select from 44 other such areas, where coverage is technically possible, or make a case for other locations to be added.
Comux has proposed coverage of up to 28 further locations. Ofcom will be seeking expressions of interest from potential operators in these additional locations, as it did before the first phase of licensing, and advertising local licences later in 2013.
As well as broadcasting the local TV channels, the multiplex operator can broadcast two additional video streams, which can be leased to other organisations on a quasi-national commercial basis.
In May 2012, Ofcom invited applications to run local TV services in 21 local areas. In total, 57 applications were received to run local TV services in 19 areas, along with four applications for the local multiplex.
In addition to the multiplex licence, Ofcom has now awarded 14 local TV licences and will make further awards in the coming months.
The 19 initial locations that the multiplex operator is required to cover are: Belfast Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Preston, Sheffield and Southampton.
The additional areas that Comux has proposed to cover, subject to local television licences being awarded in those areas, are: Aberdeen; Ayr; Bangor; Barnstaple; Basingstoke; Bedford; Bromsgrove; Cambridge; Carlisle; Derry/Londonderry; Dundee; Guildford; Hereford; Inverness; Kidderminster; Limavady; Luton; Maidstone; Malvern; Middlesbrough; Mold; Reading; Salisbury; Scarborough; Stoke on Trent; Stratford upon Avon and Tonbridge.
Ofcom will also be seeking final expressions of interest in Swansea and Plymouth. Local licences were advertised in May 2012 for these areas but, despite expressions of interest, there were no applicants. These areas remain part of the required coverage commitment of the multiplex licensee, if local licence awards can be made.
Digital UK, the organisation responsible for the management and allocation of channel numbers on DTT, has reserved channel numbers for new public service local TV channels. These will be located on the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide at position 8 (in England and Northern Ireland) and 45 (in Wales and Scotland).
Comux UK founder, Canis Media’s Chief Executive Ed Hall said that the company would be playing an important role in what he described as one of the most exciting changes to the UK’s TV landscape for many years. “I believe that we won because our innovative co-operative structure maximises the chance of success for each and every local TV franchise holder. I’m now looking forward to building the infrastructure and particularly excited to see the first local TV services on-air. This really is a step-change; previously local TV has been limited to a handful of cities but soon there will be up to 60 towns and cities with their own local channel. This revolutionises how the UK’s local communities are served by TV,”he concluded.
Comux UK will ensure that all profits from the commercialisation of the two national channels that are part of the licence but are not ring-fenced for local TV are used exclusively for operating and promoting local TV. Profits will help to:
o Contribute to the costs of the transmission services
o Pay ‘dividends’ to the local licensees
o Provide revenue to a charitable trust set up specifically to fund projects and initiatives essential to the continued national success of local television
Comux UK’s technical headquarters and The Local TV Charitable Trust will be based at Birmingham Science Park, Aston.