Standby Regions:

Do regional news broadcasts still have a place in the UK and Channel Islands today?

Introduction

This project focuses on the ongoing relevance of UK regional television stations in their role providing news to audiences. In an age where the internet is often the first port of call for news, the project will investigate the shifting role these stations will have to undertake in order to stay relevant. The project includes a case study on the ITV and BBC regional stations serving the Channel Islands region, demonstrating how changes they have made over recent years are future-proofing their position as a leading provider of regional news.

The project will set out several key ideas on how regional news can stay relevant in the future, as well as the social, economic and political factors that might influence the future of regional news broadcasting. This will be done through the analysis of broadcast data and existing third-party research as well as conducting insightful new primary research and interviews with leading figures from behind, and in front of the regional television cameras.

Areas of Investigation

Between August 2016 and March 2017, a comprehensive research project was carried out into the relevance of regional television stations. Some of the project’s key areas of investigation are:

  • The role local news broadcasts plays within society
  • The history of regional broadcasting in the UK
  • The changing ways audiences are accessing content
  • How the audience influences regional news programmes
  • Catering to the needs of specific nations or regions
  • Relationships between the media and politics
  • Current trends and future expectations for regional news

 
By investigating these areas, and many more, I hoped to produce a comprehensive study into the state of regional broadcasting in the United Kingdom and Channel Islands.

“Our audience tends to be very varied – but we seem to particularly appeal to women! Because the south has more elderly people than most parts of the country, we also tend to attract a middle-aged and older audience. These also tend to be more loyal viewers. But we are well aware of the need to appeal to a younger audience – they are the future!”

Fred Dinenage, ITV Meridian

Findings

As part of the project, an audience survey was carried out online. This asked questions on regional and national news viewing habits. Over the few weeks the survey was running, there were 150 responses.

Each of the respondents were aged 18-79 and resident in the United Kingdom or Channel Islands. The demographic breakdown of responses by region can be seen on the right. As you can see, there’s a fairly varied sample. Responses for the survey have come from all parts of the country, ranging from the north of Scotland, down to the Channel Islands.

83% of respondents to the survey said they still watch their regional news programme, although the majority of them say they only watch occasionally, rather than regularly. As technology has developed, so to have people’s viewing habits. People are now able to access news content in so many different ways, social media has become most people’s first point of call for news, and broadcasters have had to work hard to diversify their content offerings:

“People want local news – but our TV proposition is hyper-local for the islands – so it still has a large and loyal audience – but increasingly they will expect our stories online and on demand and the 6:30pm ‘appointment to view’ will become less important.”

Matthew Price, BBC Channel Islands

Those that do watch regional news programmes indicated that the evening and late news programmes were the ones most frequently watched. This could be because people were too busy to watch television during the morning and daytime, but are still able to find time to sit down and watch it during the evenings.

Another possible explanation could be that people are, on the whole, watching less television than they used to. With an abundance of ways of accessing news content today, from websites to mobile apps, broadcasters have had to adapt and change their mindset and news-gathering processes:

“We asked people who didn’t watch the six o’clock news why they didn’t watch it, and whether they’d still want to follow our news, and actually when we did that research was “we like the Channel brand, we trust the Channel brand, we want to engage with Channel’s news, but we’re simply not home by six o’clock. So we might watch the late news, if we’re still up at 10:30, but we need another way to access news from Channel TV”

Karen Rankine, ITV Channel Television

Conclusion

Ultimately, whether regional television news will continue to have a place in the future depends upon several factors which could influence the strategic direction broadcasters will take towards their regional news output:

Social Factors

  • Broadcasters must continue evolving to sustain their current audiences, and to attract new viewers
  • They also have more competition than ever before thanks to social networks
  • However, they have the advantage of being an established and trusted presence

Economic Factors

  • Providing news at a regional level must be economically viable for the broadcaster
  • Broadcasters will need to be proactive in ensuring their regional operations provide a quality service that is worth funding
  • They will also need to have contingency plans in place to ensure their operations are future-proofed for years to come

Political Factors

  • There is always the opportunity for new legislation to be introduced in Parliament which could have a detrimental effect on broadcasting
  • This is especially true for the BBC, as it’s Royal Charter is scrutinised and renewed regularly
  • Regulatory bodies like OFCOM and the BBC Trust should ensure that the needs of regional audiences are catered for

Threats to the future of regional television broadcasting won’t necessarily come under just one of these categories. To be sustainable into the future, it’s imperative that regional broadcasters are increasingly self-sufficient. In circumstances where an ageing infrastructure could present a future problem, there should be plans to support it, or eventually replace it with future-proofed technology before it presents a problem. Broadcasters should also continue to move with the times and the latest viewing habits of their audiences in order to remain such an important commodity.

“For me, and it seems for our viewers, regional news still has an absolutely vital place, but it will only stay as important if we maintain the investment in our infrastructure, and we deliver news in a way people want to engage with”

Karen Rankine, ITV Channel Television

Want to find out more about the project?

Why not take a look at the full dissertation?

READ MY FULL REPORT VIEW ALL RESPONSES TO SURVEY