London TV channel only on Freeview could leave millions unable to view

09:45 27 April 2012

The dark areas show the parts of north and south London that might not receive the new London TV channel, with only the light areas getting a clear signal

The dark areas show the parts of north and south London that might not receive the new London TV channel, with only the light areas getting a clear signal

Channel 6 consortium

Millions of Londoners could be left in the dark when the proposed new London TV channel goes on the air.

The government proposal for the local station, one of 20 planned in the UK, only allocates a Freeview slot when it goes live next year.

But industry leaders want it to go out through satellite as well to ensure all Londoners can receive it.

They argue that Freeview’s vacant slot 8 listing, allocated to the new service, can only cover three million homes if it is transmitted just from Crystal Palace on a medium power frequency.

The remaining two million will be left in what London Assembly budget chairman John Biggs describes as a “TV desert”.

Only 40 per cent of these three million households use Freeview with the rest viewing by satellite or cable.

Those viewing direct could also be affected by blackspots such as the “shadow” that affected reception in a large swathe of east London when Canary Wharf was built 30 years ago.

Leading figures in the broadcast industry are now calling on regulator Ofcom to include satellite transmission before inviting tenders for the contract.

This would cost £1 million a year on top of running costs – but would mean the signal reaching all five million households.

Channel 6 Group is one of those likely to bid if the terms are right for the London franchise.

It is led by Richard Horwood, former head of Trinity Mirror Television, who voiced doubts about whether a London TV station would be commercially viable without satellite.

His Channel 6 group believes Ofcom has to do two things that are crucial to bidders’ business plans before the tenders are invited.

Firstly, the franchise has to include satellite access.

Secondly, it has to ensure rules about “listing” are followed about putting “public service” channels ahead of others.

That means the new station, given “public service” status by the government, should go in Slot 6 on both Freeview and Sky saltellite, its “natural place” after BBC1 , BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

But that slot is currently occupied by ITV2 on Freeview and Sky1 on Sky which Horwood points out are not “public service.”

ITV2 should vacate Freeview’s number 6 slot and perhaps be pout at slot 8.

Current proposals mean ther new station on a medium-power frequency on Freeview only means it will disenfranchise six-out-of-10 London’s households, according to Horwood.

“That would attract low-budget TV,” he says. “It would draw bids from organisations that don’t need commercial funding to defend their current media market, or those planning embarrassingly low-quality TV that they won’t need to reach satellite or cable audiences to cover their low costs, nor care about disenfranchising most Londoners.”

London is the flagship of the 20 “pioneer” stations on the government’s list that will include Norwich, Brighton, Southampton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.

It must get prominence, he says, to be commercially viable to promote London as a world city.

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