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Local TV steps closer to reality as Freeview multiplex operator named

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© Rex Features

Comux UK, the not-for-profit co-op of local TV licence holders led by Canis Media, has today (January 28) been named as the new local TV multiplex operator on digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Ofcom has selected Comux to be responsible for building and operating a technical platform for broadcasting TV services targeting specific UK towns and cities on Freeview.

The 'MuxCo' licence has been awarded for a 12-year period and Ofcom now expects Comux to set up the required infrastructure so that the first local TV channels can come on air before the end of 2013.

A multiplex, or 'mux', represents a certain amount of broadcasting capacity on DTT (Freeview). In May 2012, Ofcom invited applications to run TV services in 21 local areas using a dedicated local TV mux. In total, 57 applications were submitted to run local TV in 19 areas.

Ofcom has already awarded 14 local licences, including for Brighton, Sheffield, Scotland and Grimsby. It will make further announcements "in the coming months", including the hotly contested London licence.

MuxCo will manage the way local TV stations use the Freeview architecture to reach their specific intended audience. All the channels will operate using the same Freeview channel, but viewers in Sheffield will only get the Sheffield station, for example.

Freeview logo
Comux UK is a co-operative not-for-profit organisation, owned in equal measure by the local television licensees and managed by Canis Media for an initial period of three years.

It will be based at Birmingham Science Park, Aston, and harness the expertise of a consortium of technical partners led by Canis, the digital media organisation that brokers the sale and trade of channel slots on Sky's electronic programme guide.

Comux UK said that all profits will be channelled back into local TV, including a portion going to a charitable trust with a remit to provide funding for projects "close to the heart of local communities". The charity will be headed up by Canis's head of local TV Clare Bramley.

Canis Media's chief executive Ed Hall, who founded Comux, said he was "delighted" to be playing a role in "one of the most exciting changes to the UK's TV landscape for many years".

"I believe that we won because our innovative cooperative structure maximises the chance of success for each and every local TV franchise holder," Hall said.

"I'm now looking forward to building the infrastructure and particularly excited to see the first local TV services on-air. This really is a step-change; previously local TV has been limited to a handful of cities but soon there will be up to 60 towns and cities with their own local channel. This revolutionises how the UK's local communities are served by TV."

Ofcom logo
Alongside operating the initial local TV licences, Comux has proposed to expand coverage to a further 28 locations.

These include Aberdeen, Ayr, Bangor, Barnstaple, Basingstoke, Bedford, Bromsgrove, Cambridge, Carlisle, Derry/Londonderry, Dundee, Guildford, Hereford, Inverness, Kidderminster, Limvady, Maidstone, Malvern, Middlesborough, Mold, Reading, Salisbury, Scarborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-upon-Avon and Tonbridge.

Ofcom will now seek expressions of interest in those areas from potential operators wanting to run a local TV service. It is also asking for bidders in Swansea and Plymouth.

As well as broadcasting the local channels, Comux will launch two additional video streams that can be leased to other organisations on a "quasi-national commercial basis".

Originally conceived by former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, the local TV scheme aims to create a vibrant network of stations that can serve local communities, improve local democracy and provide an alternative to the BBC's services.

Digital UK has allocated prominent channel numbers for local TV, including position 8 on the Freeview TV guide in England and Northern Ireland, and position 45 in Wales and Scotland.

Alongside broadcasting on DTT, the local TV channels are expected to go live on satellite and cable TV, and online. They will be supported by advertising, but the BBC has also pledged £25 million of funding to local TV up to 2017.

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