Local television set for Manchester (will people watch it?)


Here at Smoking Gun PR, like so many other public relations agencies based in Manchester, we’re proud of the city in which we do business. So much so that several members of staff have been in and around town long enough to remember Piccadilly Gardens well before it became a test site for concrete dividing walls and metal trees.
As such it goes without saying that we can also easily recall the sorely under-promoted, frequently overlooked, and (even whilst living 1.5miles south of St Peter’s Square), often unwatchable due to interference Channel M. A Mancunian TV service designed to broadcast content specific to the urban region, the collapse of its operations in 2010 means news that a brand new station, again with the remit of beaming local content into local homes, can be greeted with a little skepticism, albeit also plenty of excitement.
Of course the situation in 2013 is rather different. YourTV, the company that won the bid for Manchester’s channel, has secured one of 19 new television services set to begin airing in the very near future, covering most major towns and cities in the UK. The Government has provided the catalyst here, and with a BBC deal that will see money handed over to these localised broadcasters in return for programmes, clearly it’s the kind of initiative one could describe as almost too big to fail. Certainly in comparison with the relatively small scale Channel M.
There will certainly be obstacles, mind. Each new station will apparently receive £150,000 for content from the Beeb in the first year alone, which can’t be sniffed at but is a drop in the ocean compared with the funds needed to produce original shows. And that’s exactly what YourTV needs to be doing if it has any hope of being a worthwhile launch. Then again, Channel M, if nothing else, impressed with its commendable approach to music programming- playing up on a somewhat cliched but nevertheless genuine strength of its hometown. However, those time slots still fell by the wayside in favour of national stations and their illustrious (or at least big budget) offerings.
This brings us to the subject of regional broadcasting in general. A close-ish comparison to these new city stations would be the ITV network, as it divides the country into regional platforms like Granada (serving the North West). It doesn’t take much effort with Google to find stories about the problems with revenue streams many broadcasters in this field have been blighted with during recent years. And these are household names, in many cases with over half a century’s experience behind them. In short, it’s a difficult section of the media to succeed in, let alone start up.
Realistically it’s unlikely YourTV will pose any immediate threat to the North West ITV franchise- which covers a far larger area (including Lancashire and Merseyside), and therefore has greater commercial value. There’s a much more interesting question to be asked, though, namely if we would want it to bother trying. Headline makers like Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, and the Champions League aside, once you become synonymous with dated detective re-runs and The Magaluf Weekender it’s very difficult to come back in terms of the public’s perception.
The point being that YourTV will fall short if it tries to match ITV’s trash with its own, simply because it will have less cash to splash. But more so, it will contribute nothing to Manchester’s media and creative credentials, a disappointment considering the whole local television idea could be a great boost to those attributes in the long run. Put simply, those responsible must ensure there’s some real innovation at work in this new endeavour, even if there isn’t a huge bankroll, because it’s what the city deserves no less. For now then everyone’s watching, but we need a few good reasons to stay tuned in. Reassuringly, though, there seems to be at least some effort being made to find out what those could be.