Boxing clever

Jim Booth

Jim Booth

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For most of us Christmas means a blitz on the best and worst of festive TV. More repeats than gran’s brussel sprouts. Downton Abbey and Dr Who tipped to be the big hits for Christmas Day. If you’re still awake.

Closer to home various entrepreneurs are eyeing the Fylde for the future of TV – waking up to the potential of putting local on the viewing schedule.

We’re used to seeing Blackpool on TV, but others speculate there are rich pickings to be had by featuring the resort.

Marketing consultant and Blackpool councillor Tony Williams cautions against complacency in the quest.

He warns: “Resort TV should complement what’s already available rather than compete with it. That’s the way forward. And it has keep quality and topicality at the heart of everything it does. It has to offer something the other broadcasters don’t.”

Coun Williams, a public relations adviser, was a pivotal figure in Cable North West, part of a massive power base at Preston, when cable had all to play for locally. “We were ahead of our times in many respects but the bubble burst,” he admits.

“If anything, smaller may have a better chance of gaining ground, but it has to have big backing, and some real drive behind it. Otherwise it becomes a hobby, not a living.”

Coun Williams is looking into the possibility of reviving a community based analogue TV channel he looked into setting up eight years ago pre-digital switchover.

“Our idea was studio based interviews on the issues of the day, topical rather than political, what people really think of local issues. It was a unique selling point and differed from the other channels. We wanted to develop a local channel homework club, book room, chat show.

“You need a niche market when 165 channels are all competing for eyes. But a local channel is very limited on what it can actually deliver. If you want issues in depth you can read The Gazette so a local channel has to be as good as everything else out there. Filming local council chambers or the Over 50s club only has a certain limited appeal.

“In America, where I used to work in New Orleans and San Diego, local channels are big business.

“Technical problems halted our plans but it’s still feasible particularly with the capacity space of the digital age and the channels up for grabs. But you need the finances in place, guarantees and advertising and viewers. It can’t be a hobby. You are also competing with internet TV. “

In a tricky economy it’s a tough call to start a brand new broadcasting business effectively from a standing start.

A squeeze on BBC spending has forced a costly but ultimately cash saving relocation of key broadcasters to the North West. Coming cutbacks on local radio station staffing levels could impact on community and news coverage by pooling more services and taking some of the individualism out of the programming.

It seems a paradox the Government should announce the advent of 20 super-local pioneer TV stations across the land – although currently with little information available on what back up or funding may become available to aid their establishment and what remit they may have.

Yet, from the Big Society to Localism local telly stations seem to press all the right buttons for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Lancashire’s Guild city Preston is to bag one of the first – sharing with neighbouring Blackpool.

It could be up and broadcasting by 2013 says the man behind Ribble TV – a firm formed to make the most of the opportunity by BBC producer Jim Booth.

“It will give Blackpool a TV voice,” says Booth. “It’s very much part of this bid. It won’t be Preston-orientated. There’s a lot of interest in this.”

Only 20 pioneers have been selected from 65 towns and cities to apply for licences.

They were chosen on the basis of positive feedback from the areas concerned and the promise there would be a readymade and receptive viewing market.

One man who knows that better than most is Danny Braid, 42, a former maths tutor turned handyman after redundancy (fyldehandyman.com) who set up the award winning community based Blackpool TV web channel (tvblackpool.com) a couple of years ago to plug what he considered to be a gap in regional TV sports coverage.

He began filming his beloved Squires Gate FC – offering a package of comprehensive coverage and edited highlights for fans. On Boxing Day he will be out filming the definitive derby – when promoted Squires Gate FC take on AFC Blackpool.

Danny’s branched out from sport since, covering celebrity interviews, and community groups, such as Elswick Singers Christmas Concert and Trinity Hospice’s Santa dash.

Blackpool TV carries links to WorldTV’s Youtube videos too and can be viewed globally, via Boxee software which can be installed on any computer and capable of being connected to a TV.

“The site gets a lot of hits,” he admits. “It’s a hobby.

“Having been made redundant as a maths teacher, I must focus on earning money and can best do that as a handyman.

“But I’m interested in the new local TV channels and have already been approached by others interested in the bidding process.

“ I know my stuff but is there money in it? Potentially, with support.

“I honestly think so much goes on in Blackpool that if any town can have its own TV channel Blackpool can.

“We can’t compete with The Gazette for comprehensive news coverage and we could never keep up with the BBC, Sky or ITN so why try – but the potential is huge.

“Just look at all the people who follow local TV in America? For all the channels we still have little to watch - there’s room for resort TV.”

* Broadcasting regulator Ofcom is commencing consultation on areas targeted for local TV channels before announcing the start of the bidding process and deadlines.