Fearful Execs Still Scapegoating BBC Local; Regulator Must Examine Real Issues

You’ve got to feel sorry for BBC Local’s video proposal. All Auntie wants to do is publish three videos per day on each of its existing local websites, but the plan – which the BBC Trust is deliberating on until February 25 – has so far drawn ire from a vehement Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) CEO Sly Bailey, Johnston Press, GMG Regional Media, The Newspaper Society, the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, even broadcast umbrella Radio Centre.
As though radio‘s argument actually has some validity, now Kerrang parent Bauer Radio has stepped in to the ring, with its national MD yesterday telling a conference the BBC initiative would “destroy” its own online efforts, PG reports. Mark Story said: “Our commercial stations in virtually every market are the number one source of news and have been for the past 30 years. This area is being destroyed by the BBC. We’re certainly going to see more stations and local groups go bankrupt over the next few months.”
Story neglected to mention that commercial local radio right now, and all by itself, is cutting back on local news and other output to an unprecedented degree… as stations consolidate local operations at central network HQs, or out-and-out replace local programming with syndicated national shows, they are creating homogenous, bland, playlisted franchises that, increasingly, will have only advertising as a local component. This may be accelerating thanks to the economic crunch, but it began plenty before the BBC submitted its proposal, and – just as ITV’s local news cutbacks place more import on the public-service leader, it’s possible to argue, while economics threaten commercial rivals’ long-term plans, BBC Local will become a more important resource, not less.
Commercial local media say they face pressure on three fronts – the already declining local media market, the worsening local classifieds sector and the additional threat of BBC Local. But if they are to win a BBC Trust ruling that the proposal would adversely impact the private sector, they must first demonstrate harder that they will build on, rather than shirk from, their local obligations.