BBC bids to control Local TV money with its own multiplex application

Part of a series of features about the candidates bidding to run the local TV multiplex network in the UK appearing @ this fortnight. Local TV doodleThe BBC has thrown its hat into the ring by launching LMux Ltd, a company which would operate as a "not-for-profit" organisation to run the UK's local TV multiplex network if it is awarded the licence this autumn by Ofcom.

By submitting this application to Ofcom, the BBC hopes to keep direct control of the Licence Fee money that has been set aside to launch local TV across the country. However, it proposes to sell off LMux toward the end of the current BBC Charter period.

In its submission to Ofcom, the corporation states: "The BBC believes that establishing the local multiplex will contribute to the BBC's Public Purposes to represent the nations, regions and communities of the UK and to sustain citizenship and civil society. The BBC also believes that the L-DTPS [local TV] channels will represent a welcome new service to audiences that are currently under-served for local (as opposed to regional)  television content, and will bring additional diversity to the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform."

Its bid to run the local TV multiplex network is seen as being cautious. In fact the application admits "we believe our effective and duly cautious approach to business planning will help ensure a local TV sector that is self-sustaining and thereby delivers lasting impact from the public money invested."

Using the standard model of setting up and operating local multiplexes from Arqiva sites as indicated in Ofcom's coverage notes, it sees a conservative rollout of local TV services between 2013 and 2016.

The BBC's cautious roll out schedule highlights a big debate in and around the media industry as to whether local TV will take off, whether it will be profitable, and whether new start ups will stay on air. In fact the BBC's LMux application contains a detailed segment on the viability of the multiplex.

A BBC-led local TV multiplex operator would open the doors to pop-up messages appearing on BBC One to let viewers know that if they retune, they'll be able to receive a new local TV service. Local TV would get its own awards ceremony "with the aim of publicising some of the best content produced by L-DTPS channels and raising the profile and quality of local TV services across the UK."

The statement continues "We envisage categories such as Programme of the Year, News Story of the Year, Presenter of the Year, Journalist of the Year, Producer of the Year, Programmer of the Year and Channel of the Year. The ceremony would be held at a different location in a different part of the UK every year, perhaps in BBC buildings."

The local TV channel and each of the two extra videostreams on the 3-channel multiplex would get a bitrate of around 2.7 Mbps. This would be at a fixed rate. The BBC explains "Given our cost-effective method of integrating  channel signals into the multiplex, statistical multiplexing will not be possible, so both L-DTPS and quasi-national services will be offered at constant bitrate."

The proposal outlines a big change in ownership from 2016, at the end of the current BBC charter. It proposes to sell LMux Ltd off, taking some BBC personnel with it. If no buyer is found, the licence would be handed back to Ofcom.

If the BBC/LMux Ltd wins, expect a steady, cautious but reliable approach to rolling local TV services, with an eye firmly fixed on value for money and the "public purse". But is this the type of application Ofcom will prefer, or would it prefer to see a bold, more innovate approach to running the local TV multiplex? And what will Ofcom make of the proposal to sell the multiplex operator in a few year's time? Time will tell.

Judge for yourself:
BBC/LMux application
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