London’s New TV Channel: Too “Hip” To Be “Cool” (Or Vice Versa)?

“Alright! Welcome to London Live TV”. Those were the first words uttered by presenter Marleena Pone as the station finally went “on air” at 6.30pm on Monday 31st March. But was everything really so “alright”?  Understandably, the London Evening Standard (ES) and “The Independent” hailed the launch as a resounding success. They are both published by London Live TV’s Russian proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev.

 On 1st April, ES journalists Anna Dubuis and Ross Lydall reported that the new channel had been praised by celebrities and media commentators for its “lively start and diversity”. They quoted from an article by Mark Lawson in the Guardian that same morning in which he noted that London Live TV would “make existing broadcasters aware how relatively old, white and male they look” – but omitted his comment that these same broadcasters will not, “on the initial evidence”, be frightened by Lebedev’s entry into television.

When interviewed on BBC TV’s  “Andrew Marr Show” (Sunday 30th March), Lebedev gave explicit assurances that London Live TV would be of “the same quality as all the national channels”. It would provide “all the great things about London, culturally, politically as well as business”. He emphasised that he had not “purchased” the channel: The franchise had been “awarded to him by the British Government”. Would he be exercising a “close grip” over editorial policy? No. However (he declared), he was trying to create something “completely different”, which would give London “not only jobs but also a platform to introduce new talent”. He pointed out that when his family bought the ES in 2009, it was making a loss of £30 million and was on the point of closing down. It’s circulation has increased since from 700,000 to 900,00 and it is now making a profit. The implication was that what he had achieved with the ES he could replicate with London Live TV.

Stefano Hatfield, London Live TV’s Editorial Director, had anticipated that their media rivals “will not be doing us any favours”. He was correct in this assumption. In “The Telegraph”, reviewer Michael Hogan described the channel as “ a shoestring operation”. Unfortunately (he asserted), its youthful “vibe” extended to programme quality: “High on filler and low on content, it frequently felt like it had been made by Media Studies undergraduates. Picture quality was worryingly grainy, as if filmed on a mobile phone.” All the same, the “frothy lifestyle programming was far superior to the news content”, which (he considered) should be a big concern for Lebedev as “ the five & a half hours per day of news and current affairs form the backbone of London Live’s schedule”.

On the BBC  Radio 4 “Today” programme (2nd April), Julia Raeside – who writes about TV for the “Guardian Guide” and reviews films for “filmfour.com” – expressed surprise that the channel is “so heavily aimed at youth – the 16-34 demographic”. We are (she remarked) being constantly told “this is ‘quirky’, this is ‘cool’. Young people hearing that (she imagined) will switch off in droves”. Her view was similar to Michael Hogan’s: “It all feels very nice: Affable media students doing a basically ok job. There’s nothing new and it’s certainly not aimed at half the population of London, because they just cut off people at their early twenties”.

London Live TV (Raeside noted) had received “blanket advance coverage”, especially from the ES. She had thus assumed it “would have a lot of money behind it” and seemed somewhat taken aback by (in her opinion) “how cheap it looks”. She completely agrees with “showing London as it really is” and acknowledged that the channel feels “much more relevant in terms of the people. presenting it”, but (for her) it’s main problem is that “it just isn’t very good”. Her conclusion was that “it has a long way to go before it looks like something I’d want to watch”.

By contrast, Sarah Perry, a journalist based in Norwich, had been impressed (she told “BBC Today”) by “Mustard TV”, which had opened in her city just prior to the launch of its counterpart in the capital. It’s run by a team of only 15 people, is not aimed at such a youthful demographic and has a “much more sober tone” than the London channel.

Which one will be the most successful? Only time will tell.

Filed under: Media | Posted on April 6th, 2014 by Colin D Gordon

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