Wednesday, July 30, 2014

London Live - lives a little less - how to launch a station, not!

There is no joy in crowing about this misfortune. London is poorer for it. Given its depths at creativity and its imprimatur status at exporting media, this needed to work.

London's heartbeat ought to be pulsating to the contribution of the new kid. It isn't. Instead an atrophy of sorts is enveloping the station according to news reported by the Guardian.

The story is, a couple of months ago, London Live, a new entertainment/news station, which was part of the local license government initiative, launched. It was a vaudeville fan fare, made possible firstly by Jeremy Hunt MP. Critics said from the outset local TV would never work.

About the only thing the station was not going to do was invent TV, because its PR hail was it intended to reinvent it.

A salutatory lesson, if you intend to find the Higgs Boson of television. Don't talk about it, until you've truly found it and its verified by your peers.

Alas, today London Live is discovering some hard truths about launching a London station, particularly on a smallish budget of £14million a year. Yes that is change to a network.

And if you're going to reinvent TV, don't put it in the hands of dye-in-the-wool TV. A strange paradoxical statement, because if people in TV already had the answers, why were they not evident before hand? If you want to know the temperature of the water don't ask the fish!

Also, it would help if you don't try and rewrite television history. Claiming to be the first 24-hour station in London is, er, porkies.

Twenty years ago a station called Channel One launched its own London station. The press were by and large kinder. I happened to be one of the recruits. 

The general and misleading narrative is that Channel One was an unmitigated disaster.  This year, I completed a history of Channel One as part of my PhD submission which looks at a future of news form and storytelling.

The thesis is a critical account supported by evidence from its key players and its critics and so whilst it shows Channel One's flaws, it also corrects some myths such as the station's output.

This hero gram from industry figures gives some idea of the nature of its output.

Chris Cramer, then BBC head who went on to CNN praises Channel One.

Jane Root who would become a BBC Controller does too.

Mustn't get too carried away though because Channel One also had deep furrows running through it, which surfaced during my research. Partly this was down to creative tension, but paradoxically it also contributed to the creative zeal of individuals and the station at large.

So based on this week's news, here are just a few things London Live, from the outside appear to have not perfected.

1. Know that you need time. A few months in petitioning OFCOM that you want to change your brief to mainly abandoned local programming  suggests little knowledge of TV making. It's a long game. At Channel One there were not too dissimilar causes for concern in direction; but the first major one came after a couple of years.

2. Critically understand your audience.
At my own interview for Channel One I recall saying there was no need pitching at Telegraph loyalists, or the BBC audience. The BBC has vast resources. On the other hand if you're going after the youth audience, as London Live did, you're going to have to be radical and hold your nerve. And that also means being more radical than what you're doing at the moment.

3. Take advantage of the technology boon. Launching a station on cable/ satellite gives access to the living room audience, but the increasing trend is mobile and away from appointment-based TV.

Channel One's technology leg-up was videojournalism and a juke box that automatically played all the videotapes. Hence the station was never actually live and thus mitigated on air mistakes.

Surely London Live was made for the iPad generation, mixing print ( magazine articles) with rich video. p.s Endless discos ( short for discussions) doesn't make for exciting TV unless you have The Word in mind and you're planning something O.T.T. p.s.s If you don't know what The Word is and you're into British Youth TV, a quick lesson on wiki is in order.

4. Get ready for the brand fall out. That is be cautious about talking yourself up, because if it doesn't meet the audience's requirement, it's a long fall which could hurt the brand.
Channel One, also puffed its chest, but it had the innovation of an untried videojournalism practice to match.

5. Be flexible, find the gains and exploit them. Because you're local, get into and establish a rapport with community groups.  Channel One had more than 30 videojournalists whom at times stayed put in communities and built up a rapport, London Live has around ten.

Part 1 of 2/