Friday, October 11, 2013

The launch of London's newest station, London Live and the ghost of Channel One

"Details have been revealed of London’s first dedicated 24-hour television channel, London Live, which will go on air in the Spring of next year". 

This opening paragraph from the Independent newspaper proclaims the arrival of London's own television station, and one that has been long overdue.  

£15 million is to be spent on this digital frontier, bolstered by the Evening Standard providing huge resources to furnish the stations news,  and a daring programme schedule which includes short films according to Broadcast.

At this point, you should be hearing the record scratch to a halt. No fault of London Live. We've been here before.

Cue, 1997  at the UK's gathering for the TV industry, a former BBC director turned managing director told the television industry audience how new television Channels must be different to succeed.

Aston managed a TV station called  Channel One TV. It was London's first 24-hour television station launched in 1994. The station spent £12 million a year - not far off from London Live.

And like London Live, it sought to rely on a newspaper for help. Have you guessed who? Yes The Evening Standard. Except back then in 1994, the Evening standard was owned by Associated.

Like London live, Channel One too had bold dreams. London Live will use video journalists (apply here),  Channel One Television pioneered videojournalism. It was the first 24-hour television station to use videojournalists in the UK.
Author working at Channel One TV 

Channel One folded in 1998. It lasted four years. Its demise is attributable to several reasons, including the lack of cable's penetration, which the managers were relying on.

But there were other pressing issues, which my six years PhD research interviewing management and staff has revealed.

The money ball of Channel One was how videojournalism reduced the spend per storytelling to a fraction of the cost the BBC and ITV would pay. This you might presume would show in the difference between the quality of programming.

You'd be partly right, but from Aston's speech to the Financial Times New Media and Broadcasting Conference there was a twist to this assumption. Aston stated:

In November 1995 the cable industry commissioned RSMB Television Research to undertake the first major survey of broadband cable television households and it found that Channel One is The Most Popular Cable TV Channel in London. 
Channel One is Number One in the ratings according to TV watchdogs, the ITC. In results announced in September 1996, researchers for the Independent Television Commission found that 97% of people surveyed liked it, with many expressing "surprise" about "the high quality values and quality of presentation."

There was something the station was doing, a risk in the way not only programmes were made, but in the styles they adopted. 

In today's digital disneyland of TV stations and the web, launching a station in London is going to require a strategy which will have to predicated on what next, rather than what now.

Formal television being launched now is in danger of sinking those millions, which is why the BBC  is adopting touchcast ( see my insider report here), but more importantly that a prescient attitude to 21st generation programming is considered.

It's a heady mix. It's not YouTube and it'll be hard pressed to beat a BBC rejuvenating itself with #BBCwherenext.

So what's in store for London live? They are presently hiring, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Next week. More on launching a station...

David Dunkley Gyimah is completing his PhD which looks at Channel One TV and the future of television. He is a senior lecturer at Westminster University and a practising videojournalist who is completing his most recent story travelling to Southern Turkey 3 hours from the Syrian Border. David is an RTS juror, artist-in-residence at the Southbank centre and a former Newsnight, Channel 4 News and ABC News journalist. He has won various awards including the prestigious Knight Batten in the US and trained the FT, Chicago SunTimes and Press Assocation. You can find out more about ho here at