THERE are no airs and graces about Greg Dyke. He may once have headed what is arguably the world’s most prestigious broadcaster, but in person he remains refreshingly down-to-earth and approachable.

Sitting in the back of my battered Honda on the way to the University of York’s new Department of Film, Theatre and TV, where he was to give a keynnote speech on the future of British TV, the former BBC boss started regaling me with tales about when he used to work as a cleaner at Rowntrees.

He was a humble mature student studying politics at the university at the time. Leaning forward from the back seat to chat, he recalled the foreman at the chocolate factory once coming up to him as he was cleaning, and commenting about the sweat on his forehead.

“Listen, son,” the foreman told him – or words to that effect. “There’s a lot of windows here. No matter how hard you work, you’re never going to finish. So I don’t want to see you sweating again!”

More than 30 years later, the man who went on to become the Chancellor of the University of York still chuckles delightedly at the memory.

Down to earth he may be, but he knows his TV. After an early career as a weekly newspaper journalist in London, he joined London Weekend Television (LWT) in 1977. He rose rapidly in his chosen career, becoming Editor-in-Chief of TV-am (where he introduced Roland Rat) in 1983, Director of Programmes for TVS and, by 1994, Group Chief Executive of LWT. He was Director General of the BBC from 2000 to January 2004, when he stepped down following the controversy over BBC reporting of the Hutton Inquiry.

So when he says, as he did in that keynote speech at the University of York on Monday night, that York would be an ideal city in which to pilot one of a new generation of local Freeview TV stations, he is worth listening to.

This issue is very much on the agenda following the publication in December of the Shott Report on the future of local television.

The report (see panel) suggests setting up a network of new local TV stations in the UK. Jeremy Hunt, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary who commissioned the report, is expected to announce next week whether the Government will accept the recommendations.

So if it does, and if York were to host one of the new TV stations, how would it work? After all, the city has already had its own TV station – York TV – which, in theory at least, is still broadcasting on a terrestrial channel (see panel). Do we need another one? And would it work any better than York TV if we got one?

Mr Dyke certainly thinks it is worth trying. Small cities such as York are poorly served by regional TV, he says. “Because of the transmitter network, half of York gets a news service from Leeds, the other half gets a service from Newcastle. Neither is aimed specifically at York.”

A TV station carrying news, sport and magazine programmes specifically about York and the area immediately surrounding it would certainly be of interest to local viewers, he says. All the evidence shows that the more local the content of a local news programnme, the better its ratings.

Crucially, such a station could also be of interest to local advertisers, he says.

Regional TV advertising is hugely expensive – and a local business which wants to reach only local viewers wastes a lot of money reaching out to viewers outside its catchment area. The same is true, Mr Dyke says, of larger organisations wanting to target a purely local market.

“I am chairman of the biggest theatre operator in this country, called ATG. We own 39 theatres spread right across the UK. The Grand Opera House here in York is one of our theatres and we would love to advertise on York TV to attarct more people to our shows.

“Take a play like Calendar Girls, which is touring in many of our theatres. Regional television advertising across the whole of Yorkshire is simply too expensivce for a show like that and also incredibly wasteful. We’d love to see a local television service in York and all the other towns and cities where we have theatres – and we’d love to advertise on these services.”

That could be crucial, he says – because in order for a local York TV station to work, it would have to be a commercial business paid for by advertising. If it was funded by the state or by the local authority, that would compromise the ability of journalists working for the station to hold those in public office to account.

So how would such a TV company operate?

It would, he believes, be best broadcast digitally on Freeview. The Government should make bandwidth space available free to companies which run local stations. There is a strong democratic argument for doing so, because a healthy local TV station carrying local news and magazine programmes as well as other content would be good for the democratic process.

In a city such as York, he says, it would make sense for there to be a multi-media company running not only local TV, but also the local newspaper, internet news and local radio. Lots of US news orgainisations operate that way, he points out, although in this country it would require the relaxation of rules on newspapers owning TV and radio companies, and vice-versa.

With traditional newspaper circulation declining, he says, that could be the way to save local journalism.

As to the content – no local company would be able to fill 24 hours of TV with purely local content, he admits. He sees there being a network of, preferably locally owned and locally controlled TV stations. A certain number of hours of TV content a day would be purely local – it could be repeated at certain times of the day, he says – with the rest being nationally networked material.

As for the programmes themselves – well, that would be for local TV stations themselves to decide. Certainly local news, features and sport, then magazine programmes, even local quiz shows or panel games. There would also be the wealth of material you might expect to be generated by a new generation of media and technology-savvy young people: footage shot on mobile phones, web content, texted messages, material created by local community groups, and so on.

Local TV wouldn’t be as glossy or polished as the BBC or ITV, he admits, but that wouldn’t matter, becauser it would be local. “You could argue that people are willing to accept reduced quality if the content is more local. It could be argued that regional news has never been as good as national news in terms of quality because much less money is spent on it. But this hasn’t impacted the ratings. The same would apply to local versus regional.”

Mr Dyke is convinced that a new generation of local TV stations will become a reality – and quickly, too: within as little as two years.

Despite the recession and its aftermath, the possibilities offered by digital TV technology mean the the timing is right, he says.

In York, a number or organisatiuons – including The Press, Science City York, the city council and the University of York – have already been holding talks to look at the possibility of setting up just such a local station.

How it would be delivered – whether online, or via Freeview – has yet to be decided.

But if it went ahead, it would be a local station run for and by local people, says City of York Councillor Iain Gillies, one of the driving forces behind the idea. It could carry news, sport and magazine features, of course – but also other content, such as information streamed to hotel bedrooms for tourists, educational programmes, and programmes produced by local voluntary groups. Add to that programmes produced by young people for young people, says Carl Wolf, Science City’s York’s IT and digital manager, who is working on the technical side of setting up a local TV station.

A domain name for such a station – – has already been registered. And if it gets off the ground it could, says Coun Gillies, be a real community station. “It would be up to York people to say what content they wanted. It would be for the people of York.”

The Shott Report

FORMER investment banker Nicholas Shott was asked by Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt in June 2010 to chair a committee looking at how the Government could “maximise the potential”

for local TV in the UK.

The key findings of the report, published in December, were:

• In the long term, local TV will probably be delivered via the internet rather than ‘traditional’ broadcast. In the shorter term, however, digital terrestrial TV would allow local TV stations to develop

• Ten or 12 conurbations should be chosen to host trial local TV services, providing at least two hours of high-quality local content per day

• Local TV should be broadcast on a single digital terrestrial channel, and where possible on satellite and cable

• Public Service Broadcasters could promote local TV services by, for example, on-screen red-button prompts or insertion of local programming into a national channel’s regional schedule

• Local TV services should benefit from the shared resources and advertising capacity of a national broadcaster acting as a “backbone”

Former BBC boss Greg Dyke believes, however, that the Shott report does not go far enough, and that instead of recommending trial local TV stations in ten or 12 conurbations, trials should be piloted in smaller cities such as York, which are not already well served by local TV. He believes this is the route Jeremy Hunt will go down.

Whatever happened to York TV?

YORK TV was launched in 2003 by Hertfordshire-based EBS New Media. The station had its own MD, sales and technical staff, and broadcast a range of local news, magazine and sports content on terrestrial TV via a transmitter at Askham Bryan.

The number of staff employed by the station was steadily cut back, however. Today it is still theoretically in operation, broadcasting mainly repeats on terrestrial channel 54. But Phil Howden, the station’s part-time manager, admits it is unlikely many people watch or even know of the station’s existence. It is mainly now a ‘toe-hold’ so that the company can take advantage of any changes in TV broadcasting, Mr Howden said.

• What do you think? Would York benefit from having its own television station?

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