TV revolution to begin in Fermanagh

Friday sees the launch of what its owners believe will be a disruptive revolution in news production and distribution; Fermanagh TV. Local company Under The Radar has been working on project for some time and is led by ex UTVers Ferghal McKinney and Trevor McBirney, who left when the current affairs department was downsized. The company is the one Bob Geldof was referring to in his interview with the FT this morning. The prize: an open funding pot for public service broadcasting. Although that is something that has to be decided on 16th June, Geldof seems pretty confident his ‘distributed network’ model will give him and his local partners an edge in the competition over one of the two oldest companies left in the commercial TV network:

Tendering out to the usual suspects just simply isn’t going to work. In the age of the internet, the notion of television itself is as archaic as the word wireless – even if that has been reinvented for the digital age. “It doesn’t mean anything will be exclusively online, but multiplatform news will be required. Also, I don’t think there is any way of doing this without working with local newspapers and those kind of agencies.

Geldof already has business to business digital channels like Vets TV and Teachers TV. Fermanagh TV will hook up with local newspapers like Slugger’s regional paper of the year the Impartial Reporter and the local district council to provide hyper local content. Slugger understands that it plans to spread this bottom up approach into other counties both in Northern Ireland and neighbouring counties in the Republic to build up a comprehensive local news service.

It’s worth having a look at Geldof’s Kent TV, for an idea of how it might work. Niche, certainly. But the quality seems high on a first recce. The election channel is public information oriented, rather than newsy.

Production is good. And it’s local. One of the reasons why the Republic’s press got their estimates of the FF performance so wrong was because they were not following the local news sufficiently well, which is where the parties where fighting their battles. That’s where the two big parties are fighting their European campaigns, and why the regional press remains vital.

Anything that reinforces that local voice in the public space has to be good. And its particularly beneficial if the competition causes in a significant rally in the quality of news and current affairs output from the incumbent licence holder.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Seymour Major

    I have one worry abot this. It is purely a technological one to do with broadband. The broadband speed is not as fast around here as in other parts of the Country except perhaps in towns like Enniskillen. I live near Lisnaskea and the streaming of some of the recordings or broadcasts are bad. They keep stopping, just as they were doing now when I tried to have a look at Kent TV. Hope this wont put people off.

    That said, I wish the project the best of success

  • eranu

    you could try satellite if you dont mind shelling out for the kit. 450 quid here but 35 quid pm after that.

    or maybe one of the mobile phone companies with 3G internet service might have coverage in your area. heres vodafones postcode checker. seems to be a small patch of 3G between brookborough and lisnaskea, but none around the town unfortunately.

    kent tv looks pretty nifty. i hope it catches on round the rest of NI.

  • Oiliféar

    Concur with eranu, Seymour Major. Vodafone was cheap and cheerful for me (in the south) when fixed-line broadband didn’t suit. Family in Mayo are unable to get Eircom. They use O2 fairly intensively. Same with friends in Kerry too – very intensively too (watch a lot of YouTube).

    Had Digiweb once in Dublin. Kept cutting out. But that was a few years back and was line-of-sight not satellite.

    3G broadband has really opened some previously inaccessible parts to broadband. I will be watching with interest to see how it pans out.

    A comparable project in the south is, which has been running for over a decade now. It too is driven by a ground up approach to online (local) media and that approach has been the key to its success. While it is now looking very dated bear in mind the project (yes, project, not commercial venture) dates from an era when the internet was static text and dial-up. Kent TV and look like a natural transition from this.

    Fair play to initiatives like for bringing online media to the local. In the glitz of Web 2.0 (and the hype about “the information super highway” from the era when was set up), the potential for online media to be a local media has for a large part been ignored.

    It doesn’t need to be just global. The big national media has discovered the online world in a big way in recent years. Time too for it to be local too.

  • Werewolfe

    I seem to remember a couple of young men trying this idea out in Derry about ten years ago (but their ambitions were usurped by greedy people).

    They were well ahead of their time, me thinks.

    Might be worth talking to them !

  • Archie Purple

    Correction for Mike: It’s Trevor Birney, not McBirney…..ex Counterpoint Producer and now MD of Under the Radar.

  • Scaramoosh

    Further bad news for UTV, which just issued
    an interim management starement for the period 1 January 2009, to 30 April 2009.

    The Group said that it had experienced a revenue decline of 9% compared with the previous year.

    After adjusting for its two most recents acquisitions FM104 and Tibus, the like for like decline was 14%.

    Revenue in the Radio GB division for the four months to the end of April was down by 15%. Radio Ireland saw a like for like decline in sales of 17%. Revenue in the Television division to the end of April declined by 19%. New Media revenue grew by 2%. As at 1 January 2009 the Group had net debt of £108.4m. An analyst noted;

    “With estimated net debt of £108.4m at 31 December 2009 and an EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation] of £26.3m, this leaves the covenants (net debt/EBITDA at 4.12x) somewhat on the tight side.”