Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester are among the 21 cities being invited to run local TV channels by communications regulator Ofcom.
The regulator is also looking for a company to run the new national Freeview network which will carry the new channels and reach up to 44 other areas of the UK.
Ofcom said 87 potential applicants have made informal approaches to run local TV channels, and three groups have shown interest in the national network.
The announcement follows Parliament agreeing to give Ofcom new powers to license the local TV services.
The entire shortlist includes Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Sheffield, Southampton and Swansea.
They’re the locations Ofcom has decided have the best chance to launch a successful local TV channel covering a significant number of people (the map above is an Ofcom/Arqiva estimate of local TV coverage).
Ofcom said: “The local TV channels will broadcast on a specially-reserved ‘multiplex’; this is a discrete amount of spectrum used for broadcasting over digital terrestrial TV (DTT).
“As well as broadcasting on DTT, local TV channels may choose to offer their services on satellite, cable and online.
“The multiplex operator will be required to cover all of the areas above and to propose which areas additionally to cover; they can select from 44 other areas where coverage is technically possible or make a case for other areas to be added.”
The new channels will get the Channel 6 slot in the Freeview programme guide, and Ofcom has asked Sky, Virgin and Freesat to explain where they will appear in their programme guides.
The channels and multiplex operator will also be able to apply for a share of of TV Licence funds set aside for local TV: £25m to help get started and £5m a year for three years for programme-making.
Ofcom said it has also received expressions of interest to run local TV channels in Ayr, Basingstoke, Bedford, Derry/Londonderry, Guildford, Kidderminster, Limavady, Luton, Maidstone, Malvern, Stoke on Trent, York, Aberdeen, Bromsgrove, Carlisle, Dundee, Inverness, Middlesbrough, Reading, Scarborough, Stratford upon Avon, Tonbridge, Bangor, Barnstaple, Cambridge, Hereford, Mold and Salisbury.
How local TV will work
The local multiplex will used ‘interleaved’ frequencies that slot in between the current Freeview multiplex frequencies for short-range coverage.
The multiplex operator will be able to charge the local channels for the cost of providing the coverage, but it will also be able to carry at least two other channels at commercial rates.
The new channels will have to be on-air within two years of winning a licence from Ofcom, but they’ll have a licence for 12 years once they start broadcasting.
Applicants will have to show Ofcom what their schedules will look like and how much local programming will be shown during peak time.
It’s expected there will be a mix of local TV, syndicated national TV shows and shared programmes from different regions.
The closing date for applications to run the 21 local TV channels and the multiplex is 13th August 2012. Ofcom expects to make decisions on successful applicants from this autumn.