Keep It Country TV founder Phil McLaughlin (aka Phil Mack) this week defended his decision to take his channel – newly renamed as Spotlight – off the Freeview platform despite being inundated with complaints from disappointed viewers.
The channel is keeping exactly the same schedule of music and memory lane or nostalgia programming but will – for now – only be available on the Sky and FreeSat platforms and known as Spotlight.
At the beginning of this year he widened availability to include Freeview, which is on the vast majority of new TV sets, and it brought his programmes into between 18m and 20m UK homes.
But, he told the Irish World, national broadcasters who own Freeview, led by the BBC, were looking for ‘unfeasibly and unsustainably high’ fees to stay on the platform.
“Believe it or not, this was never about the money for us, it was about the music and doing something we love. Sky charges us £100,000 to get into eight million homes but Freeview is looking for many, many, many times that to get us into just over twice as many homes,” he said.
“It would cost us 85 to 90 per cent of our revenues just to stay on it. We can’t do it. We know we’ll take a hit but we’re looking at ways we can maybe put the station back on to local, regional, Freeview.
“We know we have a lot of older, often housebound, viewers for whom the station is often a companion during the day and some of the stories are heart-breaking.
“I would just say to them, we are looking at how we can do it, but not at the cost organisations like the BBC are looking for.
Phil recently hit the headlines when he challenged the BBC to give some of its TV license fee revenue to independent TV stations like his, based in Essex.
“We regularly get higher ratings than BBC Scotland, our Memory Lane programme gets 1.5m viewers, but it gets £32m,” he said.
“We certainly get bigger audiences than Sky Arts,” he said.
Explaining the name change he said: “We’ve been thinking about this for some time because while we’re still keeping all the country music and Irish music programmes we’ve grown and expanded that we’re not just country.
“Take Tommy Fleming, whose shows on our channel, Tommy’s not country at all, and our archive and nostalgia programmes like Memory Lane are regularly among the most watched of everything we put out, with several in the BARB (British Audience Research Bureau) top ten ratings.
“So, from the beginning of this week, we thought the new name should reflect that,” said Phil.
“Unless and until we sort something out with Freeview I would remind people that if they have a Sky or FreeSat box they don’t need to have Sky, like with Sky News we are available for free, you don’t need to subscribe,” he said.
He said he expected his channel would soon have a meeting with the US broadcasting giant Comcast which recently beat Sky TV co-founder Rupert Murdoch in its bid to acquire the network.