Friday, March 28, 2014

How to launch a 24-hour station live in London - an expert editorial

London Live, which launches next week, will be a success writes former Newsnight and Channel 4 Producer, and Knight Batten Winner David Dunkley Gyimah

David will be presenting at the international journalism festival (april 30th 2014) on producing a radically different approach to 21st century news story forms from his 6-year-PhD research. (See what Apple say)



Success for Londonlive however depends on how you measure success. At the very least the channel will introduce us to the next generation of TV stars and journalists, who can expect to be poached by the networks. Whether it will make good on its estimates of returns, at £25m, as highlighted in Greenslade’s Guardian article is a difficult one.

The degrees of excitement and mix of fear is palpable as the station nears its last countdown.  Some twenty years ago this November, 30 young journalists, including myself, experienced similar excitement. The article above from 1994 reads:

"150 people will have worked themselves up to that pitch of excitement which comes with  new TV channel Launch."

We were part of a newly launched station called Channel One, ironically owned by the Evening Standard, though in 1994 it was under different management then. Today, some of those Channel One’s graduates are household names or  respected industry  figures e.g. Chris Hollins on BBC Watchdog.

Channel One launched with the drums rolling to a newly acquired discipline called Videojournalism heralding a new beginning in storytelling. Before then there had been no documentation of videojournalism as self-shooting/storytellers in the UK, until an advertisement appeared in the Guardian in November 1993.

From the euphoria of its launch, to the hard reality of the keeping the dynamism afloat, Channel One lasted four years. Its little known legacy to videojournalism, multiskilling and trying to rewrite the rules of news hides a rich pedagogical history of successes and failures.

If you knew, in hindsight how to launch a 24-hour London station, would you not want to know how it ticked with Londoners?

Launching a 24-hour Network in London

The similarities between Channel One and LondonLive are evident, if not unfair. In my research I make no direct comparison. How could I? So it would be unwise to rely on trend or comparative analysis to compare the two. They are entirely different animals – in many ways, but share attributes.

For instance, Channel One started of London-based, LondonLive is based in London. Both recruited young media workers with diverse backgrounds. 

Channel One sought to rely on cross-pollination of broadcast and print journalism, which Londonlive sees as being its strong suit, and whilst LondonLive looks to spend 14m a year, Channel One, according to its Managing Director Julian Aston, spent 12m a year.

Channel One was spending a £1m a month. When you break down £12m, it can only buy you so much, even though Channel One was instrumental in driving down costs. Documentary forms normally costing £20, 000 were slashed to £5000 and less. 

With that kind of squeaky-tight budget, being innovative comes with the purse strings.  A reality check, however is how Channel One and LondonLive inhabit different social, technological and cultural ecologies.
Channel One launched during the nascent period of the Internet, and a burgeoning cable system that promised so much but never delivered.

Londonlive launches in the ferociously competitive world of digital, where  anyone’s a publisher, and young audiences have no allegiance to a brand, for brand sake. In digital, hyperlocal outfits and newspaper groups have proved they can amass viewers with the appropriate strategy. 

Premium information, which is free and readily sharable, as the Guardian explained its strategy at its Media Summit 2014 appears to be the name of the game, thus far. Green shoots indicating audiences will buy content appear to be breaking ground.

Videojournalism appeared to be the panacea for Channel One, and similarly has been lauded by LondonLive. The research I have conducted illustrates an interesting phenomenon regarding what constitutes videojournalism. 

A person with a camera who shoots and reports? Not really, there exist a matrix of issues that frame the form and hence, importantly, what you get from videojournalism. Otherwise, there is little distinction between one-man bands and videojournalism, and hence the final product.

In 2005 and 2006, when I was asked if I could help launch the Press Association’s Videojournalism programme, one of the hurdles to overcome was to reboot videojournalism from its predictable offerings. 

In my research I interviewed scores of newspaper videojournalists to uncover what worked and what didn’t. Then I took that study globally, and some interesting patterns emerged.

Like, Greenslade and I would like to see LondonLive succeed. The ingredients, the environment, the wherewithal exist. But for me the truly interesting apsect is whether LondonLive will kickstart the next TV evolution by producing a new form of television, or television news for that matter, or deliver credible programmes in the television we all know.

Presenting the new language of videojournalism at the International Festival of Journalism

Television teaches its audiences the grammar they need to decode ad enjoy programmes. Play it safe in a competitive environment and you’ll win audiences, but become indistinguishable in brand identity.  Opt for innovation and you have to ask the question, what’s your staying power?  

 Firstly, the audience needs time to understand what you’re doing, and TV like the premier league gives it managers too little time to show how bold they can be. Secondly, if you are looking to reinvent the wheel, how do you maintain this? 

Television, like newspapers, breed spoilers and copycats. If you're successful, the other side raises the stakes by pouring in more money into their venture (Sky vs BBC). Or otherwise stealing the talent team. That's the threat LondonLive faces. £14m a year soon become £24m to safeguard ideas. It's a poker game you win by looking nonchalant with your chips.

Television, according to a former Channel One producer Julian Phillips, who became a BBC executive, requires teams of innovative collaborators to continually test ideas and probe for distinctiveness. 

Greenslade, who contributed to an article on Channel One two decades ago points to a discursive behaviour pattern amongst Londoners, why local television doesn’t work. 

Kelvin Mackenzie put put it another way saying: 
"A house fire in Peckham is of no interest to people in Ealing. In fact they would be secretly pleased".

Unlike the US, where cable and independent programme making is a billion dollar industry, with big profits at stake, in London that market place is yet to break.

Londonlive however could prove everyone wrong.