Richard Horwood has a tele-‘vision’ of a Channel 6 for London—and a reason why he wants Ofcom to act on it now
07:00 07 May 2012
Richard Horwood has been trying to get a London television station up and running for 20 years.
Now he sees the opportunity after the government put through legislation last year for a network of ‘public service’ stations across the country. London would be the flagship.
That set the broadcasting industry buzzing, not least Richard and his Channel 6 Group.
“We have good national advertising market in Britain worth around £3.4 billion,” he points out. “It’s vibrant. It can fund a high-quality channel that would sell London as a world city.”
The ex-lawyer turned financier, now media executive, is passionate about the new London TV franchise about to be offered for tender.
“It’s extraordinary that probably the greatest city in the world, and one of the largest, doesn’t have its own station,” he says. “There’s nothing in television helping you live your life as a Londoner.
“The mission is to engage with people in that community—no other channel has that mission.”
Legislation for the new channel, along with 19 others around the country, says it should promote local democracy and social engagement.
“It’s about the Big Society, about localism, people getting involved in the politics of their areas,” Richard argues. “London has so much to offer, so much to show the world. It’s about the way people live their lives. We have to reflect what they do to get the most out of their city and engage with it.”
But it has to be for the whole of London, he insists. At the moment, there is only a Freeview slot allocated which the industry says will only reach 60 per cent of London at best, if it is transmitted at medium power from Crystal Palace in order not to interfere with other signals.
Even then, only 40 per cent use Freeview to watch TV. That brings it down to only a-quarter of London households. It needs satellite and cable slots as well and front-page listing as a public service broadcaster.
That is the argument Richard’s Channel 6 Group is currently putting to Ofcom, the broadcast regulator.
His vision goes beyond the politics of the TV industry. Programming ideas are still under wraps, but he does admit the possibility of things like popular property and food shows. There is also the London theatre, rivalling anything New York or anywhere else has to offer. There is London’s culture with its seemingly endless list of museums and concert halls—more concert halls than any other major city.
Richard works full time on his ambitious project ready to apply for the London TV franchise.
His labour of love is in his spacious 42nd-storey apartment at South Quay next to Canary Wharf where he can see all of east London. In the other direction, through gaps in the Canary Wharf towers, he can make out Hampstead Heath and the Wembley stadium arch. Below is an unrivalled view of the winding Thames around the Isle of Dogs and the O2 on the Greenwich Peninsula, with a southern panorama stretching from the Crystal Palace transmitter on the right to Bexley on the left.
His “other job” is non-executive director of Blink TV in Soho’s Greek Street which makes TV programmes of live music events.
But the Channel 6 project is his real passion, having put his own cash into the venture.
The timetable for the London franchise is Ofcom inviting bids in the summer—or even as early as the end of May—awarding the contract in September, then another 12 months setting up before going on air. The company running the transmission masts has to make adjustments and needs about a year “to stick up all the stuff.”
Richard has a few studio sites in mind and is also being offered locations in Central London by observers keen to put bets on this runner.
“London is the Crown Jewel on this exercise, particularly if Ofcom does its job and organises a prominent listing on satellite,” he says. “That’s what will make it commercially exciting and attractive to business.”
Richard graduated with a law degree from Bristol University and started his career as a solicitor in Birmingham.
But the lure of London was strong. He moved into corporate finance in the City in the 1980s, so he knows his way around the financial world. That also gave him a lead into television, ironically.
One of his clients was David Montgomery who asked him to join him at the Mirror Group to help set up a TV business.
Horwood lived in America for two years, returning to a London he found “much more exiting and sophisticated” than New York.
“But New York sells itself better,” he tells you. “They find it incredible that London doesn’t have its own TV station.”
He moved to Canary Wharf from Hampstead just a month ago, in love with the panoramic view from the 42nd floor.
“It feels like I’m living in a transmitter,” Richard says with irony. “If I could, I would perfect the signal by sticking a transmitter out on my balcony.
“But I can’t. It has to come from Crystal Palace on Freeview which won’t reach all London—unless Ofcom does its job and gets the station on satellite as well, where it belongs. Ofcom must not duck the issue.”
His backers, he says, need to know where they can transmit from if they are to make the new channel viable to push London as a world city. That’s his vision—and his message to Ofcom.