Ofcom says YES to national spine network on local TV

Ofcom has approved a move that will allow local television channels across the UK to launch a common networked schedule.

Earlier this year, the licence holders of seventeen local TV channels, including That's TV, Notts TV and NVTV Belfast, put forward plans to create a 'national spine' of programming. The proposals were submitted by the Local TV Network - an organisation set up to represent the interests of local TV companies - to Ofcom for review.

The changes mean that the various local TV channels can now align their local programming commitments regarding the number of hours spent each week broadcasting local news and other first-run programming, allowing them to create common periods within their schedule for networked programming. In many cases, the number of hours devoted to local programming or repeats thereof is being allowed to be reduced. That's TV has indicated that it is already advancing plans for a national spine with "general entertainment" programmes.

Plans for a national spine to support local TV channels were dropped in 2011 by the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in favour of "more financially secure individual stations".

As part of the regulatory process, the Local TV Network has confirmed ‘repeats’ or ‘looped’ content is to be removed from some services, including That's TV's channels, where local news was previously looped in repeats, with minor changes in each loop so that it could be counted as 'first-run' programming.

The changes will affect channels broadcasting to Basingstoke, Belfast, Carlisle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Guildford, Edinburgh, Manchester, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Preston, Reading, Salisbury, Scarborough and Southampton.  Separately, the station broadcasting to York - That's York - has also had its broadcast requirements aligned to other That's TV channels. Depending on the size of the city served by each channel, each channel would be obliged to broadcast between 1 hour to 1.25 hours a day of local programming, with the exception of Manchester, where the local channel would still be obligated to screen 3.5 hours a day.

The Advisory Committee for Scotland (ACS) objected to the plans, saying it would mean the local TV channels in Scotland would "fail to meet the necessary statutory criteria." It argued that the spine of networked programmes was already in operation - all the local channels in Scotland already share the same programmes.

In a further submission to Ofcom, Sheffield Live TV has also been told it can reduce its local programming commitments.

While approving the latest requests from broadcasters to reduce their local hours, Ofcom said it would be "concerned" if there were requests for any further variations.

Local television channels operated by Local TV Ltd, controlled by Made Television Ltd, and operating in cities including Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds, is not part of the current national spine proposals, although it has in the past moved to harmonise its local outputs in order to broadcast a simulcast of CBS programming at various points of the day.

(Local TV Ltd is not to be confused with Local Television Limited, which is controlled by Daniel Cass, the man behind That's TV.)