London Live was doomed from the beginning

So are the days of London Live numbered?

That’s certainly the impression from the latest round of articles lambasting Eyvgeny Lebedev’s ill-fated local TV station.

Earlier this month, Steve Auckland, the chief executive of ESI, the parent company of London Live, hinted it could close within the year. He admitted they simply “couldn’t keep propping it up”.

In an article with campaign magazine he said:

“We haven’t got a magic wand. The guys have done a great job with what they have. It’s been a great experience for Lebedev”

“The easy call for me is to close it. It’s an expensive exercise and to be honest a lot of people say to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to carry on with this”

But what went wrong with London Live?

When the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced plans for a network of 60 local TV services in 2011, the licence for London was much sought after.

Of all the locations, it was considered the most likely to succeed.  A TV station dedicated to the capital. When the Lebedevs, the owners of the Evening Standard, won the licence all seemed rosy. They already had the newsgathering operation, the audience was there and the advertisers definitely were.

Or so they thought.

But it’s not as easy as that. The media landscape, especially in London, is a complicated beast. You can’t build a TV station and simple hope people will come. There were several problems from the very beginning.

Content

The programmes didn’t grab people. They simply weren’t interesting or engaging enough to tempt the audience away from what was already there.

Local news was meant to be a big driver, but why would you watch London Live, ahead of the established brands of BBC London or ITV London. People just didn’t see it as new, innovative or different. Experiments with UGC and social media weren’t as effective as hoped and very few people tuned in.

London Live is on channel 8 of freeview. It is an excellent position on the electronic programme guide, one that many media organisations would love, but you do need the content to go with it. Repeats of Ali G, Made in Chelsea and the Peep show don’t cut it.

To use a tired cliché …at the end of the day it’s about the content stupid.

Digital first

London Live had an opportunity to create digital first, multi-media operation. Video at the heart of the Evening Standard, it could have targeted the huge and growing mobile, digital audience. But it didn’t.

When it launched in March 2014, it was promoted as a traditional broadcast TV station. It received massive coverage in the Evening Standard but the audience wasn’t interested in a new TV station, it wanted something fresh and new. It just seemed old fashioned.

Too expensive

The first year is estimated to have cost £15m to run London Live. Setting up a TV station is expensive, the infrastructure, kit and studios cost a lot of money. Unless you can bring in big audiences from the start, advertisers and sponsors are not going to be interested. It didn’t and they weren’t.

London is a series of villages

London Live isn’t local enough, it didn’t appeal to a loyal audience. In effect London is a series of villages it’s not a cohesive location. What interests people in Shoreditch, doesn’t necessarily appeal to people in Chiswick or Peckham.

Local TV has worked in other areas. Viewing figures suggest it is a relative success in Edinburgh, Glasgow,Nottingham, Bristol, Cardiff and Leeds. It is not over yet for London Live, Steve Auckland says improvements are taking place, but it is under constant review and things do need to change – fast.

This article first appeared in the Memo on 22nd May 2015