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Raymond Snoddy 

Channel 6 - a big step forward for local/national television?

Raymond Snoddy

Raymond Snoddy wonders what Nick Shott will make of 'Channel 6'. "Is it a cunning attempt to launch a new national channel by the back door? I think we can assume that neither Kelvin MacKenzie nor L!VE TV (or even topless darts) have anything to do with this latest plan, though history rarely repeats itself in such a perfect way"...

Today investment banker Nick Shott, who has been looking into the practicality of local television with a specialist team of worthies for Jeremy Hunt, is due to brief the culture secretary on his findings.

The aim is then to publish the Shott Report within the next few days, probably early next week. So far Shott has handled his tricky mission with sophistication and delicacy, as you would expect. After all, if you want a knighthood or a peerage then a report that says Hunt's plans for a local TV revolution are doomed to failure is absolutely not the right answer to come up with.

With his interim report earlier this year, Shott helped to wean Hunt gradually off his vision of 80 local television stations all over the country. As a result, by September Hunt was starting to talk about something altogether more modest, at least at the outset - an hour-long programme a day, or compilation of news, which could be accessed via the red button.

Then in October Hunt obtained a nice little windfall in the licence fee negotiations with the BBC. As part of the comprehensive deal, the Beeb would provide £25 million in start up costs for local TV and £5 million a year either out of the licence fee or the digital dividend, however you want to term it.

There's nothing like £25 million to gain people's attention - unless its £50 million.

But the really big question to look for in the Shott report is to see what he makes of a rather disruptive idea which could makes serious waves - Channel 6.

The inconvenient trouble with the Channel 6 proposal, which will be formally launched next week after the publication of the Shott report, is that it is national as well as local and could annoy a number of big media players not just Shott.

Channel 6, a consortium put together by Richard Horwood, former managing director of Trinity Mirror Television - remember Kelvin MacKenzie and L!Ve TV - is talking about programme budgets as large as £100 million, at least on a par with Channel 5.

It would plan to launch in 2013 and depend on frequencies vacated once the analogue signal is finally switched off in 2012. But it would also seek to be on Freeview, cable, satellite and online.

Naturally such a venture would have a spine of popular national programmes with 39 local opt-outs and would sell national as well as local advertising.

Advertisers might love the prospect but ITV would not be best pleased to have another terrestrial competitor able to reach 92% of the population through all platforms. If the idea of Channel 6 starts to get serious political traction, ITV might even use the project as a bargaining chip in the battle to dent CRR.

Sky will not be best pleased about the fact that Channel 6 is seeking the number six slot on the programme EPG.

The BBC will probably be at least neutral to the Channel 6 bid - it might even privately encourage the venture as extra competition for its commercial rivals.

Provided Horwood really has the sort of financial backing that is being claimed then he could look at popular formats such as The X Factor, which after all starts off as local talent auditions.

Is this a cunning attempt to launch a new national channel by the back door? After all, there was talk of a sixth channel 25 years ago during the days of the Peacock Committee but the idea fell away because of lack of frequencies. Horwood may have been smart both to notice the implications of analogue switch-off in terms of frequency allocation and the taste and enthusiasms of the current culture secretary.

Channel 6's local plans are quite intricate. While it would provide the spine of national programmes, 39 local affiliates would create or commission their own local programmes and could get money out of the small BBC honey pot. Large cities would be expected to provide two hours of broadcast quality video material a day, 90 minutes for medium-sized towns with smaller areas offering as little as 15 minutes a day.

Without more information it is difficult to say whether the plans are financially viable or not. The founders say the business model is supported by a fully costed-business plan built by ITN Consulting.

I think we can assume that neither Kelvin MacKenzie nor L!VE TV (or even topless darts) have anything to do with the latest plan, even though the fame of L!Ve once spread around the world. History rarely repeats itself in such a perfect way.

The interesting question now is what Nick Shott - and above all Jeremy Hunt - makes of it all. What they decide could make all the difference on whether against all the odds, local/national television could take a big step forward.

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