Advanced Television

Ofcom: Local TV ‘muxco’ decision imminent

October 22, 2012

By Chris Forrester

Over the past few weeks, the UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom has been getting on with the job of awarding digital transmission licences for the Local TV applications. The new channels will transmit on Freeview.

However, the big prize, that of content playout, transmission responsibility and accountability for the management of the national digital channel ‘Muxco’ that would carry the local TV stations, is likely to be awarded in the next few days, probably this week. The local TV services are tapping into ‘gap filler’ frequencies created as a result of the switch from analogue to digital TV.

The UK government, via Ofcom, is seeking to establish local TV stations to more accurately serve cities and communities outside the current broadcasting suppliers. Ofcom’s ‘local digital television programme’ licences should start coming on stream around 18 months from now, provided there are no further delays. The BBC is funding the stations for a period of three years, although individual station funding is extremely modest. The initial station licences run for 12 years.

21 applications are in the first batch, although Ofcom is also talking of up to 65 eventual locations. But first, it wants proven success from the initial 21, and working business models that the followers can adopt. Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Southampton and Swansea are the first recipients.

The announcement to be made in the next few days is of who will manage the system, take responsibility for building the transmitters, networking and playing out each station’s programming.

There are four applications:

  • The BBC itself. Although sources within the BBC insist this is a task it has not sought, nevertheless it is applying for the management task. Moreover, should it win, it wants – in essence – to ‘own’ each station’s content, and this point has been highly controversial amongst applicants. Additionally, it wants its application fees to be deducted from a fund of £25 million should it ‘lose’ the bid.
  • Avanti Communications. New satellite player Avanti is already creating something of a stir in the City over negative publicity following on from tough trading at its satellite division. The past year has seen Avanti’s shareprice tumble from a ‘high’ of 419p to last week’s 281p.
  • CoMux wants to be a ‘Co-operative’ operator, owned by the licence-holders themselves and wants to share much of the profits back to the stations. CoMux is led by Canis Media and its team seems well-placed to serve the system given that it has been instrumental in helping shape many of the winning bid announcements.
  • Bidder Number 4 is Sheffield-based Local TV, backed by the Community Media Association. It also seeks Trustee status for its operation and says it will operate on a not-for-profit basis.

At least three of the applicants would use Gerrards Cross-based Arqiva as the supplier of transmission skills and infrastructure.



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