Up to fairly recently if you wanted to see news of what is going on in your local area you usually had to watch the regional news programmes on either the BBC or your local ITV contractor. These programmes may cover regional events but they usually have to be highly notable even to gain a few minutes of airtime - even if cameras were present at a local village carnival the event may receive minimal coverage or be neglected altogether if displaced by a more important news item arising in another part of the region. The introduction of the new local television services were intended to remove this inherent limitation - these stations will provide truly local programming for a town/city or island.
It may surprise some people to learn that local television services have been around for some time in the UK - at least for viewers who are connected to cable television networks. Ever since the first cable television experiments took place in the late 1960s there have been attempts at providing truly local television; for example the Swindon Viewpoint channel gave Swindon its own service in the early 1970s. With the rapid expansion of cable services, local services have proliferated but you have to be connected to a cable network and often have to subscribe to more than the basic channel provision in order to receive them (and not many people do).
Newer local TV stations removed the limitation of the cable services - all you have to do is own a television, a TV licence, and live within the transmission area; the station is received in the same way as the BBC. Local stations by their very nature typically cover only a small area, so their transmitter output is usually much smaller than national or regional services (for the now-obsolete analogue TV transmissions it was typically 1kw compared with 1000kw for a main service such as Channel 4), meaning that only people living within a radius of (say) 12 miles or less will be able to receive the service, though this may vary depending on the terrain and the transmitter location as well as any coverage restrictions enforced to avoid interfering with other transmitters.
TV12, which originally serves the Isle of Wight (just off the south coast of England) was the first of the new local stations to commence transmission; it had originally hoped to launch its service during the summer of 1998 but delays with transmitter provision and frequency allocation meant that the service was postponed until the start of test transmissions on the 26 October with the service launching on 31 October 1998. The delay however gave the opportunity for more programmes to be made and 'stockpiled' as well as for more advertising and sponsorship to be gained before the service started. The original transmission licence for this type of TV station was known as an RSL (restricted station licence) and only lasted for two years before renewal.
These services not only provide a local news service but they also provide many of the other types of programming that exist on national or regional TV networks such as current affairs, sport, music, drama, etc., but on a local level. Some programme types such as feature films are obviously excluded on financial grounds, but in any case that would be going against what local television is all about which is providing a uniquely local service for the community.
Recent technological advances in the equipment used in television production means that the smallest of TV stations are now capable of producing programmes of technical quality not far removed from the major broadcasters; the only constraints being the humans that operate the equipment and the production budget. A complete non-linear digital video editing system can now be purchased for under £10000, which makes an ideal partner for the cheap lightweight digital video camcorders that are now readily available.
TV12 was the first of several stations: soon afterwards MATV (Leicester), The Oxford Channel (later Six TV Oxford), Channel M (Manchester) and several others were launched, along with the expansion of the coverage area of existing stations such as TV12. However these RSL stations have often proved to be unprofitable; Portsmouth and Southampton had local TV stations of their own (with Bournemouth TV promised), but the company behind them (MyTV Network) failed to make a profit and the Southampton and Portsmouth areas were then served by Six TV.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Isle of Wight's TV12 lost its local TV franchise in 2002 as opposed to closure for financial reasons as with so many other local TV stations, and promptly went off-air without even a hint of a goodbye. Solent TV, a non-profit-making organisation was given the Isle of Wight franchise in its place and lasted on-air until May 2007 when it succumbed to financial difficulties. The Solent TV ident consisted either of an animated fish caption (namely, the picture on the flag but with the fish emitting bubbles) shown briefly at the start and end of each commercial break/junction, or alternatively a few seconds of this flag being shown likewise.
Here's an example of a promotion run by Solent TV for its coverage of the Isle of Wight Festival; a big draw in itself for a huge variety of popular music acts.
The one programme that local TV has to get right above everything else is local news, therefore it's plainly evident that Solent TV's Solent Tonight had an immense amount of effort applied order to look and sound every bit as professional as its much more well-funded regional news opposition, namely the BBC's South Today and ITV's Meridian Tonight, and by and large they succeeded.
Indeed Solent Tonight received plaudits from other broadcasting professionals for its presentational quality, and although its low budget origins are occasionally noticeable it did a highly creditable job in concealing them, much to its credit.
And no self-respecting news bulletin would be complete without a weather forecast, in this case comprising of a series of still images detailing local weather conditions at various locations working clockwise around the island with a musical accompaniment.
Solent TV naturally provided a variety of methods for viewers to contact them, enabling viewers to interact with their own local TV station. (Please note that any contact details shown in these pictures are long-obsolete.)
Solent Tonight was shown four times a day (7pm, 8.15pm, 10pm and 11.45pm) as well as being watchable online; the website additionally included a selection of previous bulletins available to watch on demand.
Not long before its demise Solent TV switched to widescreen broadcasting, and here are a selection of images showing Solent Tonight from 21 and 22 May 2007 in widescreen format.
Local television doesn't seem complete without some form of local council discussion programme, and in Solent TV's case the programme was entitled Extra Extra, often giving a platform for both local issues and the smaller political parties that are all too-often ignored by mainstream television.