Race is on for local TV service bids

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More than 60 towns and cities are in the running to host the UK's first local television services, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.

Licences will be advertised later this year, and Mr Hunt will urge local communities to make their case to be included in the first wave.

The first licences are due to be awarded next year.

The licence fee will finance some start-up costs, but advertising is likely to fund the services.

"There's a huge appetite for local news and information in communities the length and breadth of the country," Mr Hunt said.

"I want people to be able to watch television that's truly relevant to them, about what's happening where they live and featuring the people they know."

The towns and cities chosen would receive local TV from existing transmitters.

Areas eligible to bid include cities such as Birmingham and Cardiff and towns including Malvern and Basingstoke.

The big question is how local TV will be paid for?

Jeremy Hunt has found it hard to convince established media companies that local TV is viable without Government funding.

Some set-up costs will be paid for out of the licence fee - £40m was earmarked for local TV in the latest settlement with the BBC.

But beyond this, Mr Hunt has made it clear the services must be self-sustaining, funded by advertising.

Mr Hunt says: "Local TV providers will need to produce quality content that people want to watch, which in turn will make it attractive to advertisers."

That is easier said than done, as ITV and local radio companies are finding.

Plans for a new national TV network to act as a "spine" for the local services have now been dropped, but the Government is earmarking one channel on the electronic programme guide, to make it easy for viewers to find their local station.

'Over-centralised'

A map of the UK has been published detailing the 65 towns and cities in the running for the licences, which will be issued by media watchdog Ofcom.

Licences will be awarded after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has judged the level of interest from potential broadcasters and audiences.

In the longer term, Mr Hunt believes there is potential for local TV to be broadcast over the internet.

He has long championed the concept of US-style local television where many cities, rather than wider regions, have their own news and entertainment coverage.

In an interview at last year's Edinburgh International Television Festival, Mr Hunt described the UK media as "chronically over-centralised".

He said: "It is crazy that a city like Sheffield, for example, does not have its own television station like it would have in most other developed countries."

The government's goal is to license the first local TV stations from summer 2012, with 10-20 local services in operation by 2015.

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