Written evidence submitted by Local TV Network (LTVN)
CMS Committee pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill
1.1 Local TV launched on digital terrestrial television (Freeview) following the passing of three statutory orders: Code of Practice for Electronic Programme Guides (Addition of Programme Services Order 2011 (SI 2011/3003); the Local Digital Television Programme Services Order 2012 (SI 2012/292); and the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (Directions to OFCOM) Order 2012 (SI 2012/293). The first local TV licence was issued in 2013,
1.2 As a result of this legislation, local TV services are designated as ‘public service channels’ and therefore entitled to appropriate prominence for their current linear television services.
1.3 Today local TV services are licensed to deliver local news, information and features to 34 locations across the UK, with services licensed in all of the nations and regions. Local TV frequently delivers stories pertaining to local communities that would not otherwise be seen on terrestrial television. The services are regulated by Ofcom and are required to adhere to the Broadcasting Code, including rules on impartiality and accuracy. Local TV is free-to-view and can be found on Freeview channel 7 or 8, dependent on location.
1.4 There is no ongoing direct public funding for local TV services. Initially there was limited licence fee funding to support local news delivery, but this was phased out, as intended, during the first three years of each service. Today, licensees must meet their Ofcom commitments to deliver local news programming largely from their own revenues.
1.5 The Local TV Network (LTVN) is the trade body representing the local TV service providers.
2.1 Licences for all 34 local TV services are currently due to expire on 25 November 2025. The 2022 DCMS White Paper, ‘Up Next’, signalled that that there would be a consultation on “renewal” or “relicensing” of local services. LTVN firmly opposes re-licensing and advocates a renewal mechanism, comparable to that now being implemented for the Channel 3 and Channel 5 licenses, updating the licensing framework to enable operators to invest in their future.
2.2 This submission argues that:
2.2.1 The Draft Media Bill’s exclusion of local TV poses a serious threat to the future viability of the sector. Unless local TV continues to be designated in the Bill as a public service channel provider, alongside other public service broadcasters, they will not be able to secure appropriate prominence for their associated services on connected (‘smart’) TV platforms.
2.2.2 In its aim to modernise the current UK broadcasting legislation, the Bill must include local TV. Local TV should not be disadvantaged or excluded from such legislation, and it should not be treated unduly differently to comparable broadcast services including local radio.
3.1 LTVN welcomes the Draft Media Bill’s aim to reform the legislative framework for the regulation of public service broadcasting and local radio and support the sector as consumption of traditional linear broadcast platforms continuously diminishes.
3.2 However, it is generally accepted that linear broadcast consumption will remain significant for at least the next few years. Therefore, during this period, regulation must enable and encourage broadcast and internet-delivered content in tandem.
3.3 Government should continue to recognise the important role that local TV plays in supporting communities in the UK. In an increasingly online world, the ability to engage with some public services has become more challenging for some. Local TV can provide information to local communities regarding access to local services and hold local decision makers to account, with greater visual impact than possible in other media.
3.4 In order to support those who may not have access to internet services, the Government must recognise the valuable service that local TV provides to those groups. Whilst the Government is planning to consult separately on the options for local TV licensing, LTVN is concerned that ongoing uncertainty is damaging business planning for existing service providers. LTVN requests the CMS Committee to press the Government to acknowledge the importance of local TV and provide the industry with the certainty and prominence it requires on all major television platforms.
4.1 LTVN believes that a modernised framework that supports the future of the UK local media landscape must include local TV. Local TV should not be disadvantaged or excluded from such legislation, and it should not be treated unduly differently to comparable media sectors such as local radio.
4.2 The Draft Media Bill acknowledges that appropriate prominence for the Channel 3, Channel 4 and Channel 5 public service channels’ connected TV players is a pre-requisite to maintain commercial sustainability, and to ensure viewers are able to easily discover their content offer. It is therefore inexplicable to LTVN why local TV is the only existing public service channel not to be supported by the proposed updated regulatory framework. It is critical to the future of local TV that this oversight is corrected.
4.3 Whilst all Ofcom-designated local TV services have the statutory right to be carried on Freeview, in recent years many have found it challenging to secure capacity / carriage on other major platforms such as Sky and Virgin Media. The opportunity exists for the Government to ensure that in a connected TV world, all major platforms carry local TV players with appropriate prominence, enabling all citizens within an Ofcom-determined licence area to have the right to access high-quality local news and information on their main television sets.
4.4 LTVN welcomes the Bill in its effort to support the public service broadcasting sector with appropriate prominence and updated regulatory models. LTVN views the carriage of local news and information on mainstream free-to-view television platforms as a public good which should be actively supported by appropriate regulation.
4.5 All local TV services are required to deliver local news content in accordance with their Ofcom licences. These commitments are typically more detailed than those set out in Ofcom operating licenses for comparable local radio services.
4.6 LTVN is concerned that when public service broadcasting has been placed under review, the appropriate regulatory environment for local TV has tended to be overlooked. One example of this was Ofcom’s ‘Review of prominence for public service broadcasting’ dated 4 July 2019, which contained no reference to local TV and has now substantially informed the draft Media Bill. The result is the anomalous position whereby the associated video player applications of regional BBC/Channel 3 services are set to secure appropriate prominence in an online world, whilst local TV services are denied any comparable update to their licences. This is wholly incompatible with the underlying intent of the local TV framework. Without an ongoing right to appropriate prominence, the ongoing provision of local TV is endangered and the opportunity to develop enhanced 24/7 local video news applications will be missed.
4.7 Local TV services have not yet commenced significant investment in video-player applications for carriage on the major connected TV platforms such as Freeview Play, Sky and Virgin Media, not least because both platform operators and local TV operators are awaiting confirmation on the future of local TV licensing. Nevertheless, local TV operators recognise that this investment will be critical to the future of their businesses. LTVN is not aware of any rationale ever presented by DCMS or Ofcom for denying local TV video players the same right to appropriate prominence as is now being proposed for the associated players of other public service channel operators.
4.8 Without a right to continued availability and prominence in a connected TV world, there is little realistic prospect of many local TV businesses remaining commercially sustainable. It is essential that Government now engages fully and properly with the local TV sector to update the prominence framework for local TV, as it has engaged with other public service channel operators, before the final Bill is published.
5. Do you have any recommendations for additional or amended drafting to the draft Bill?
5.1 LTVN expects local TV services to be regulated in an appropriate manner with reserved access to the major broadcasting platforms and appropriate prominence, together with proportionate regulatory requirements.
5.2 LTVN proposes the following amendments are made to Parts 1, 2 and 4 of the draft Bill:
5.2.1 Part 1 of the draft Bill plans to change the legislative framework for public service broadcasters to give them greater flexibility in how they contribute to their remit. LTVN believes that local TV should be subject to its own regulatory framework, and should benefit from comparable flexibility in its licence delivery where applicable.
5.2.2 Part 2 of the draft Bill proposes to grant public service channels’ associated video players appropriate prominence (as determined by Ofcom) on major connected TV platforms. The local TV sector recognises the importance of transitioning to internet protocol service delivery and is actively reviewing options to enhance its own on-demand player applications. However without Ofcom having the statutory power to secure appropriate prominence for local TV on connected TV platforms, it is likely this transition will become non-viable and ongoing service delivery will be jeopardised.
5.2.3 Part 5 of the draft Bill proposes to remove certain regulatory burdens for local radio services and to expand existing grant-making powers to allow funding to be allocated to local radio. LTVN recognises that section 359(2) of the Communications Act 2003 already enables grant-funding for local TV, albeit these powers have never been used. LTVN believes that the local TV sector should, as a matter of principle and as far as reasonably appropriate, be subject to a comparable regulatory regime to that implemented for local radio and therefore the section 359(A)(4) powers should be extended to local TV services.
5.3 LTVN is deeply disappointed that the current draft of the Media Bill has missed the opportunity to propose updates to the regulatory regime for local TV, despite doing so for other public service channels and radio services. LTVN recognises that this is an oversight but trusts that proper engagement will now commence to ensure this is corrected when the final Bill is presented.
Local Television Network Limited
17 May 2023