Oct 202005

Joshua Tree Shadow ©Gary Hayes 2005Humans are clan-like beasts – we like to get in our Neolithic cave dwelling huddles and share. On the road towards truly personalized TV, ‘ultra-local’ services are now being studied, quantified and delivered to, by those who up until now have preferred the blanket approach – the commercial FTA broadcasters.

“Ultra-local’ is a simple term used in the industry to refer to media channels aimed at specific community based audiences (as oppposed the the long-tail niche groups). We are familiar with local newspapers, local ads on billboards on busy roads, localised radio services and of course the local versions of a zillion web pages and portals – TV though has always been slightly behind the ‘local’ curve. In some parts of the world like the US, local TV or community TV has been commonplace for some time, but in bandwidth starved regions like most parts of Europe or Australia not so. Should these regions do the’local’ thing? We need to ask “go local or go individual”?

I was privileged when I was Senior Development Manager at BBCi to be part of the group that launched the Kingston VOD local interactive service
(more on the range of this service later but for now just the community element). This was a real eye opener in terms of understanding the appetite for community-based services and content. This went way beyond simply pointing a camera at some local folk in a rather dodgy college TV studio (most US comm. TV – no flaming please, I spent two years looking at it!) – but as this flavour of Broadband TV was in the VOD domain there was much more dynamism in the way the audiences shared. It became quite simply early vBlogging via the TV set – and with the guaranteed upsurge in user generated content, this particular TV version was way ahead of the Brightcove/Akimbo-type curve.

So the BBC and now iTV are starting to move down the localised road (read: not quite personalized). This article from a few months ago covers some of the key issues about delivering broadcast services to as many as 60 cities across the UK via the three networks that have capacity to do that – broadband, satellite and cable.

The corporation claims there’s growing evidence of an un-met demand for more localised programming.
Local news proved one of the most popular aspects of a separate pilot scheme for broadband services in Hull, and similar initiatives are apparently enjoying success overseas.
“Research shows that people are most interested in what’s going on in within 15 miles of their homes,”
says David Holdsworth, head of the BBC’s West Midlands region. “Newspapers and radio have always been able to provide a localised service, but the technology has constrained the localness of television.
Now the technology’s there we should grasp the opportunity and use it.”

So we like to know what is going on in the immediate universe perhaps more than the other side of the world. There is a clear and present danger that becoming too personalized and too local leaves us ignorant of anything outside our small circle. To move into laymans philosophy, I think that one of the most powerful benefits of understanding yourself and those close makes you far more open to understanding and having empathy with communities much further afield (grasshopper say “to know thyself is to know the world”) Back to article that also points out that like community TV in the US it opens up opportunities for many new entrants who would, as I suggest in the previous post, jump straight into broadband distribution.

The arrival of ultra-local will presumably be warmly welcomed by all those students trying to break into television. They’ll be expected to work hard – setting up, shooting and editing their own stories – and for salaries that might not fully reflect the fact they’ll be doing a job that two or three people often find hard enough to share between them.
But at a time when regional newsrooms are putting the brakes on recruitment, local TV will offer the aspiring stars of tomorrow that vital first step on the ladder.
Assuming the governors do approve funding, organisers of the BBC pilot hope to recruit up to 35 VJs –

But this is the BBC and as every person I meet (well most) tells me “oh the BBC can do that because it has loads of cash…blah, blah” and of course it needs to reach all of the audiences that it is ‘mandated’ to, those who pay the the UK license fee. So why, we ask is the large independent free to air consortium ITV moving to provide localised services? Using broadband PC the service called “ITV local” the trial follows the same model as the BBC broadband TV services – lots of local VOD, weather and news about those around you. The killer app for me though is that as well as the ability to user generated content viewers can also do their own classifieds. This is interesting. Here we have the largest commercial FTA broadcaster in the UK setting up portals allowing local businesses and viewers to tell their own stories and also advertise. I wonder why? There can be only one explanation – they have decided that the old broadcasting advertising model is waning fast and they now need to move. The old model as we know is not dead, it still wraps many execs in Ferraris and Mansions, but perceptibly waning. This I feel though is a sure sign of change when the cFTAs start down this particular path. A good thing. Create a community of interest and catch them when they are most active – and ready to watch partly relevant ads. Here is their upsum:

ITV Local is a unique service that takes television to your community using broadband television.
We’re trialling with Brighton TV and Hastings TV in the ITV Meridian region. All the channels will be updated daily with the best and latest local entertainment, news, weather, travel and sports.
You can let us know what you think of the service using the ‘Give us your feedback’ button below.
Soon, you’ll be able to upload your own content and advertisements.

I used the word partly in the previous sentence because local is only ‘partly’ personal – community TV as many US folk know is rarely ‘deeply’ personal, much of it is vanity publishing (like this blog ;-), but local TV with high production value can have real resonance if it is done right. Local TV with a good churn (daily, minute by minute updates!) of user-generated content can be very compelling.

Some way from truly individualized services, ‘ultra-local’ at least connects us to our immediate physical world in more meaningful ways, which is never a bad thing. Now back to life, back to …

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005


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