Report Identifies Elements of Hyperlocal Success in the U.K.

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Destination Local” is a new $1.6m program aimed at stimulating next-generation hyperlocal media services in the U.K. The initiative is the first of its kind and offers encouragement to a sector which has often looked with envy at its American equivalent.

To support the launch I authored a landscape review (another first) of the U.K.’s hyperlocal sector. Its aim was simple; to use examples from across the U.K. — and around the world — to offer insight and inspiration to hyperlocal practitioners, wherever they may be.

The U.K. and U.S. hyperlocal markets are very different, but despite the physical ocean between us, many of the themes raised in the report will be familiar to Street Fight readers. After all, audience needs — in terms of news, information and a desire for local “connectedness” — transcend international boundaries.

As a result, the case studies and examples found throughout the document will be as relevant for hyperlocal practitioners in Sacramento and Minnesota as they are in U.K. locales like Birmingham, Manchester and (Old) York.

The relative youth of the U.K. hyperlocal sector has resulted in a plethora of different business models and there are important lessons to be learnt from others. At a time when many traditional media outlets are struggling, this nascent media sector is one the few that is demonstrably growing.

Supporting that growth is a key purpose for the “Destination Local” program.  The increasing consumption of local content on mobile devices, for example, represents a great opportunity for this emerging sector and one where the current potential is largely untapped in the U.K.

Until now, much of the U.K.’s hyperlocal activity has been under the radar. The volume of standalone citizen-led efforts in particular makes it difficult to get a sense of the scale and impact of the sector.

Here and Now” begins to redress this balance, using examples to identify ingredients for success, alongside an examination of present day challenges and opportunities.

It is to hyperlocal media’s advantage that it remains a nascent sector which is developing quickly. Unwedded to the business models of the past, hyperlocal has the scope to experiment with different models for content, revenue and community engagement.

Grounding conclusions in examples was important, as the nature of the industry means that often hyperlocal practitioners feel like they are on their own. The report shows that others (often the world over) are facing many of the same problems, and that creative and innovative solutions to these challenges do exist.

For U.K. practitioners issues of funding, discoverability and sustainability dominate their concerns. The battle for day-to-day survival can make it difficult to expand, and, as in the U.S., credibility can also be a consideration for audiences and partners. Often without justification.

However technological advancements mean that smartphones, tablets and other technologies will continue to make it easier for us to both create — and consume — hyperlocal content. The potential dominance of Facebook as a platform, and the opportunities afforded by advertising becoming increasingly localized, mean that mobile is increasingly where the sector needs to be.

Hyperlocals may not be able to do this alone, and so I have argued that partnerships — with fellow hyperlocal practitioners and “big media” — will be essential for ensuring growth across the sector.

To date, the U.K. hyperlocal sector has been very diverse in terms of its voice, aims and business models. This diversity has resulted in innovation, yet at the same time it also makes it difficult to attract large scale advertising, or national agreements with traditional media outlets. Balancing plurality of voice — and individual creativity — with sector wide scalability is a complex, but necessary, consideration.

It is to hyperlocal media’s advantage that it remains a nascent sector which is developing quickly. Unwedded to the business models of the past, hyperlocal has the scope to experiment with different models for content, revenue and community engagement. In doing this, and hyperlocal players have as much to learn from the community development sector as they do from other media outlets.

As Pew noted in 2011’s State of the News Media, “the right combination of the three may be at the vanguard of the new economics of news.”
Underpinning all of this is the fact that even in an era of globalization, local matters. Community websites, blogs and Facebook groups can all play a valuable role in helping to define local identity, fill gaps in existing content provision, hold authority to account and broaden the range of media available to audiences.

Where the sector goes next, nobody knows, but the “Destination Local” team are keen to work with international partners on developing propositions which could be as relevant to communities in the US as they are in the UK. You can contact the team via: [email protected]

For my part  I am excited to see which ideas emerge, and like fellow Street Fight readers, I will continue to watch this space with interest.

Damian Radcliffe is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today” the U.K.’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, across all platforms, in a mix of content and policy roles. A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom, the U.K. Communications Regulator, and led an award winning partnership between the BBC and a UK NGO. His open research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal  website.

Related content: “Talk About Local’s Hartley: U.K. Hyperlocals Looking for Scale” (4/13/2012)


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