Monday 17 October 2005
Ladies and gentlemen of the Press.
I suspect I've been invited here today because of the BBC's plans to launch a Local TV News service.
I also suspect, given some of the reaction to our plans and this after lunch slot, that I might be on the menu rather than the agenda!
But before you tuck in, I'd like to dwell for a moment on what is going on around us.
We are living through the greatest period of change in the history our industry.
As Les Hinton said last night, technology is changing the way we create and receive media content at an astonishing rate.
Audiences are ever more demanding. Deference is dead.
There's an increased desire by the public to interact with - and participate in - the media they consume.
We're here today in the ITV Border Region - a region that's emblematic of this rapid and far-reaching change.
In 2008 it will be the first part of the UK to turn off analogue transmission and welcome in the brave new world of universal digital TV – a first for Cumbria.
It is in this context of unprecedented change that I want to talk about our plans for Local Television News. Let me start by addressing three dragons that have breathed fire in the direction of our plans.
Firstly, the phrase the BBC used in setting out its plans in 2004 - "ultra-local" - is rather misleading.
We are only talking about "local TV" in the same scale as our 40 local radio services across England - covering a county (sometimes more than one) or a major conurbation.
These are much larger areas than those served by most local papers and a far cry from the "parish pump". The five new local TV news services we will pilot in the West Midlands serve an area boasting 68 newspapers.
Secondly, we are not setting out to create TV versions of local newspapers. We can't match their detail, their breadth and their intense local focus and knowledge - but, more to the point, we have no intention of trying!
The BBC is a broadcaster. We've been serving our audiences with regional TV news and local radio for the past four decades.
We see local TV as a means of continuing to provide this same kind of distinctive public service.
Thirdly, we are not talking about creating local television stations. Our aim is to produce regularly updated TV news bulletins – akin to our Local Radio news.
These will be available via the dominant digital platforms of today and tomorrow - broadband and digital television.
In essence, we're hoping to provide new content on our existing platforms: a new level of news bulletin via the red button on digital satellite TV, and video news on our existing Where I Live local BBC online sites.
Incidentally this meets the requirement placed upon us by Philip Graf in his report on the BBC's online activity for the DCMS.
He advised that, as a broadcaster, we should develop more distinctive audio and video content on these sites and be less text dependent.
We agreed with his report. We withdrew from local listings and entertainment based material.
And we started prominently to cross-promote other local news and information sites, including those run by local papers.
And then of course there is Michael Grade and his fellow BBC Governors.
Our Local Television News pilot which starts next month in the West Midlands will be subjected to the BBC Governors' new Public Value Test and any further roll out will be conditional on an independent market impact assessment.
You can be sure that this process will be rigorous, independent and transparent.
I'd also like to reassure News International and Les Hinton that we're not moving into local services. We've been there since 1922.
By the way, we are not alone. Today, ITV launched a pilot local broadband television service for the Brighton and Hastings area.
If it is the success that they hope it will be, other city/town channels could be rolled-out across the Meridian region and eventually across Britain.
Yet I realise that many newspaper editors see the BBC as big-footing onto their patches with our plans for Local TV news.
Attempts to create a commercial model for local television have had a very patchy history across the UK so far and we lag far behind many other countries.
Yet I believe that, far from killing a market that barely exists at present, the BBC can help to stimulate and nurture one.
The key analogy here is with BBC Local Radio. In the late 1960s, thanks to Frank Gillard, the BBC pioneered Britain's first local radio stations.
So successful was this fledgling service that a new commercial sector rapidly developed. In fact Independent Local Radio grew like Topsy, there are now six times as many commercial stations as BBC stations.
Each focuses on a distinctive market segment – ILR offers primarily music-based schedules for younger listeners: while the BBC's speech-based stations appeal to an older demographic that is much less attractive to advertisers.
They have got more and more complementary over the years as each sector has found its niche.
BBC Local Radio has a market share - just under 11% - compared to the commercial sector which takes around 34% - hardly a big footing market dominance, rather a healthy symbiosis.
We see no reason why the same approach cannot apply to a emerging local television market.
And this time there's a crucial difference in our position: we are actively seeking to develop local partnerships in order to achieve this new service.
In the past the BBC was guilty of arrogance. It sometimes clumsily barged in to other businesses and too often saw itself as operating in some market-free zone.
You could have applied Winston Churchill's quip about Stafford Cripps: "There but for the grace of God, goes God" - to us many times over and deservedly so.
Those days are over. Even if the BBC wanted to go it alone – it couldn't. More importantly we don't want to.
The general public across the UK gains more when we work collaboratively with others to improve the service we give them.
So what could that collaboration mean in practice?
Well, firstly, that we will be investing BBC resources into the wider industry.
The BBC is keen to use the local knowledge that newspapers have by buying from them, on a story-by-story basis, Video Journalism rushes.
These items would be edited by the BBC, but there would be full screen accreditation for the journalists and for the papers which employ them.
We also plan to run regular reviews of the local press on the new service.
We hope to use key correspondents on our output. Again, fully credited.
We have started talks with the Press Association to secure a commercial supply of video journalism for the West Midlands pilot.
And I can also announce today that, in order to deepen the pool of Video Journalists, we are in negotiations with the NCTJ for the BBC to fund some new training to get this particular ball rolling.
I'm not here to challenge your right to object to this new service.
But I would ask you to give a fair wind to the arguments I've set out this afternoon - and I'd appeal to you, as fellow journalists, as colleagues who believe in local journalism, not to pass over this opportunity of broadening the base of video news gathering across the whole UK.
To help stem the collapse of the British media industry into London and into the mid-Atlantic.
In short, we believe that the right way forward for Local Television News is through partnership. That is our philosophy and our goal.
I hope we can achieve it, I believe we can achieve it - and I look forward to working with you to that end.