Localism and the Media – team up the geeks and journos

Setting out the ground

I heard the Jeremy Hunt MP, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport deliver his first keynote on Media and Technology on 8 June 2010.

Jeremy Hunt spoke with the confidence and assurance of someone new in a job he’s wanted to do for ages and an awareness, I felt, that this bit is the easy bit. He also mentioned his happiness at having a new baby recently. If he has a 100 day plan (which I suspect he has – look at the 15th July date mentioned in his speech), then the first 30 are going well. He set out with clarity the areas he will focus on; three main strategic objectives:

  • Rapid roll-out of superfast broadband
  • Access to infrastructure
  • A new vision for local media

The real strategic goal is, of course, the new vision for local media. It plays strongly into the New Localism agenda and potentially opens up a way of unlocking the over dominance of Big Media. By relaxing (perhaps abolishing) the cross-media ownership rules he may stimulate local developments that will rescue some of the sub-scale regional media groups. Forcing the Telcos to share infrastructure through access to ducts and poles also opens up interesting possibilities for new entrants.

In all probability, we won’t be able to realise the new vision for local media without the rapid roll-out of (carefully undefined) ‘superfast broadband’ and that will require shared infrastructure. Hence why we have the 3 areas he will stand and fight on.

I say ‘stand and fight’ because the existing mainstream media and telco players with Significant Market Power will, while smiling, fight him every step of the way. The broadcast media industry hasn’t spent the last 20 years consolidating just to give it all up to a ‘New Vision for Local Media’. And there will be lots of reasons why access to infrastructure will be ‘problematic’ – some valid; many specious (remember all the shenanigans at the beginning of the unbundling of exchanges!).

Zero-basing the media

The existing models can’t deliver local TV/radio news, the IFNC idea was never going to work and the public service regional news broadcast model has over-centralised – look at the BBC and ITV. I live in Kent and my ‘local’ news often features things happening in Oxfordshire; well over 100 miles away.

We need a radical rethink of how local news is generated, managed and delivered. And that means teaming up communities, bloggers, journalists and coders. It means finding ways for local advertisers to support local news stations (I think you can make local advertising ‘cool’ on the web) and it needs to be done over broadband.

I think if you start from a zero-base and team up geeks and journos – you just might get somewhere.

I also made an Audioboo with other thoughts:

3 thoughts on “Localism and the Media – team up the geeks and journos”

  1. Great coverage, Brian. Well done. I was not invited to the event, but just viewing the (official) DCMS website and then listening and viewing your blog/audioboo setup, I feel I am so much better informed than I would have been had I actually ATTENDED the event.

    You make the point that these journo-technologies are available at a fraction of the cost. The challenge, for me, is how to add the ability for you to make money at this….rather than do it for free! I would subscribe to your channel well before signing up for a Kent Messenger TV channel – or (particularly) KentTV.com 😉

    My own view is that the DCMS three-point plan still misses some key points that need to be addressed up-front.

    a) Broadband and Media policy remains separate and only joins up at the National Level. We need to remove the barriers at the Local Level to allow collaborations between Communities, Local Councils, TV AND Telecoms (the latter invariably always ends up paying for most of the content delivery channel either directly or indirectly). We need to remove the tax barriers AND join up media and broadband delivery (as well as Public Services) at the LOCAL level for all this post-election Localism hype to work properly. My concern is that we are already re-forming the silos of the previous government in functional (Ministerial) portfolios, which, on their own are near-powerless at the National level.

    b) Super-fast Broadband etc. needs to be defined much more clearly….as you stated it is all too fuzzy at the moment. This is not just a speed issue either. It is a quality issue. If we are going to give access to the content industries so that they can up-load 16 hours of an HD Movie to California for rendering, then it we are talking about a completely different problem. “A perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to (still) characterise our age” – as Einstein said.

    c) The sharing of ducts and poles is probably only going to help about 40% of the requirement (probably less, if you take into account some of your points). Most of this 40% (geographically) will be covered-off by BT’s current plans to rollout fibre between 2010-2012. The title of the DCMS Presentation “Superfast Broadband for Local Areas” seems to capture the current buzz-words. But it does not answer the thorny question ” OK, so HOW will we do this – particularly for the ‘final third’?” The HOW question is, for me, the next critical question to answer.

    Just as with Digital Britain, the whole policy-setting debate seems to be going on behind closed doors. I somehow doubt that the guy in Lazards is going to do much on the Telco front.

  2. Hi Lorne

    Thanks for your comments.

    We are already seeing the early moves in the game – with the much reported comments of Sly Bailey and others from the so-called Mainstream Media.

    I agree with the 2 main dangers I think you identify – the ‘silos’ that policy-makers sit themselves in, and the ‘fuzziness’ of definitions. I don’t think I’d go as far as you on the ‘how’ issue yet.

    We are in a market where the broadband suppliers to businesses, families and individuals have defined their offerings on the basis of the available technology and its potential to allow competition. They can only compete on price. There’s therefore little product innovation and no ‘demand’ for higher speed services (despite the fact that all their networks are groaning under the demand for services like iPlayer).

    So it benefits existing players to capture the language and create confusion. We have the invention of the term “Superfast” – defining a product which is neither Super nor Fast compared with offers in other nearby economies. We need new language not focused on Tech – but on transforming services and the economy; Transformational Digital Infrastructure.

    As far as the ‘how’ is concerned; the next 60 days or so will be the test. At least Jeremy Hunt has set out the ‘what’; clearly and concisely. The acid test is how he and Ed Vaizey approach the ‘how’ and whether they and people like Vince Cable at BIS have the stomach for the fight.

  3. Interesting.

    If we put “How” and “2015” and “Localism” and “Transformational Digital Infrastructure” and “finanical hole” together in a sentence, then we get:

    How can Britain transform its digital infrastructure by 2105 to help get out of the current financial hole it is in?

    Surely this IS the debate we should be having. Interestingly it cuts across dcms, BIS, DCLG the Treasury and probably a couple of other departments as well.

    If Ed Vaizey sits in dcms, that is fine. If he also sits in dcms, that is great. But I wonder how we can get the debate so that it embraces the current decentralisation agenda as well. That, surely is where the real catalyst for generating Digital Britain 2.0 truly lies. For without a new type of thinking on the Broadband problem, we remain stuck in the old structures (and self-interests) of BT, the BBC and the investment community that wants to aggregate-up so they can gain bigger fees on the transactions.

    The HOW has to both:

    a) Encourage new (local) funding vehicles that will attract local investment from any or all of: local councils, philanthropists, local businesses and cooperatives as well as the more traditional structures like BT and the BBC. This could be done through tax breaks on these vehicles as well as some pump-priming from the banks – so long as they understand that these vehicles would be long-term (10+ investments). It strikes me that the Canadian Pension fund (which owns a few UK utilities as well as a substantial portion of Arquiva) might well be a good model. Maybe some of the State Pension could be off-set to local pension schemes that would allow local councils and local business to invest in their pension contributions into such schemes.

    b) Removing the barriers for local schemes (through reversal of tax dis-incentives and lighter OfCom regulation (much as Jeremy Hunt outlined.

    So in summary, the next question (in the next 100 days) has to be to answer the question HOW. It is surely the job of National politicians to encourage the new (localism) thinking by encouraging the new structures through local involvement and then getting the National players to “get it” and join in – much as has happened in Holland.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.