Last month NESTA and the TSB launched “Destination Local” a new £1m fund designed to fund prototypes of next generation hyperlocal media services.
It is the first time that this sort of money has been made available for this nascent sector, and it offers an exciting opportunity for funders and practitioners to work together to identify disruptive technologies and business models which can help hyperlocal media in the next stage of its evolution.
To accompany the funding launch I authored a 15,000 word landscape review, 'Here and Now: UK hyperlocal media today', which examined ingredients for success, opportunities and challenges, as well as key issues on the hyperlocal horizon.
Members will find the report full of examples of “online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically-defined community” (my definition of hyperlocal) which I hope will inspire and inform them about the potential for working in this space.
There is no such thing as a typical hyper-local site; their voice, audience and purpose are defined by the community they are serving. As a result, the report features hyper-local outlets offering everything from a focus on ultra-local news, through to being a platform for campaigning or an online hub for an area.
Technology lies at the heart of all sites, both in terms of content creation and dissemination. Tools like Facebook, Twitter and Wordpress have removed many barriers to entry for people interested in creating and sharing content about their area. Not only do they create a means to set up a hyperlocal site in minutes, but you can do it for free from your phone, PC or tablet, wherever you are.
Consumption, as well as creation, via these platforms is becoming increasingly common. Accessing content on the move and related to your location is a trend which is only likely to continue.
The impact of this means that business models are changing too. Search, smartphones, tablets and social media are all playing a role in the erosion of traditional “analogue” advertising models. The impact of this on traditional media is well documented. For hyperlocals, it offers a real opportunity. In the US, hyper-local has already been identified as the fastest growing advertising market.
Yet despite the monies and consumer activities moving into the mobile space, hyperlocal practitioners are not embracing the medium as much as you might expect. Examples like The Edinburgh Reporter – which now has a Kindle Edition and the Postcode Gazette in Sheffield – do exist, but hyperlocal mobile services are not yet mainstream.
There is great potential here, and other technological advances from Augmented Reality to LTE, connected TVs, geo-tagging, RFID and even the Internet of Things, are all worth exploring in a hyperlocal capacity.
At the same time, we also have to strike a balance between the opportunities afforded by new technologies and the challenge in helping audiences to find great content in an increasingly crowded space. Audiences can now access local content from a wider range of sources and platforms than previously possible. So helping audiences to find the right content, at the right time and on the right platform, will also be an important consideration.
Discoverability, alongside funding and sustainability, is already a key challenge for this sector. And as the range of content available to us continues to grow, it a challenge which is unlikely to go away. The prize is that when you do find your audience evidence suggests that they often become highly engaged, both as consumers of content and as participants in local discussions.
Moreover in the States, a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, found that 80% of internet users (including 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users) are active in a voluntary group or organisation, compared with 56% of non-internet users. Translating that finding to the UK is an exciting social and technological ask.
In contrast to traditional media or the hyperlocal scene in America, data about the UK hyperlocal sector is often hard to find. But evidence does suggest that the hyperlocal sector, and its audience, is growing.
The challenge now is to build on this and stimulate the next phase of development. Solutions to these challenges are varied. There will be no “one size fits all” solution. However, the relative youth of the UK sector has resulted in a plethora of different business models, and there are important lessons to be learned from others.
Partnerships – as well as technology - will also be important in taking things to the next level, and so I would urge you to see what you can do to support the sector.
Hyperlocal media can help to define local identity, fill gaps in existing content provision, hold authority to account and offer more content for audiences.
With your help, we can make it even better.
Damian Radcliffe (@mrdamian76) is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today” the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles.
A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a SONY Award winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers). His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website and on SlideShare.