"What we’re trying to do is create a network of local TV stations that are financially independent of each other" - Jeremy Hunt today, with his latest thinking about how best to create "a new to create an environment for a whole new sector that we haven’t had in this country before".
This is a realistic change from the Channel 6 plan - a network spine with local affiliates opting in to contribute a few hours a day of local content. Hunt's new version, which takes IPTV very seriously, looks to the future. Which is just as well, since the past is littered with failed efforts to create a local network.
It's not often recalled, but the original proposal for Channel 5 was a plan based on City TV Toronto. It was stopped in its tracks by the regulator - it was the kind of thing the ITC liked to do in the Nineties. Then there was the attempt to corale a network of local analogue licences into the Local Broadcasting Group. The regulator didn't like that either, and LBG's ambitious plans collapsed. And now the most recent flurry of interest in a national/local network, prompted by Hunt's advocacy of city stations, then a financiers report on how to make them viable, and finally some smart spin by Channel 6.
As with every other initiative, there has been a significant behind the scenes lobby against the notion of a commercial network which offered local programming. Most national broadcasters believe it won't work, and so consequently, the Government is changing its priorities away from national, back to local.
Regulatory policy for local television is like a pendulum, swinging between national and local. It never entirely settles, and nothing is ever entirely settled, which means very little actually ever happens.