The team behind London Live, the new local TV service that launched on 31 March, have explained how they are seeking to create a multi-platform service that appeals to the capital’s teens and 20-somethings.
Speaking at an RTS event, “London Live – the first month”, Launch Editor Jane Mote said the station had deliberately avoided taking the easy way out by providing a celebrity-led service.
Instead, the idea was to break new ground in terms of distribution, content and technology.
“We could have gone the easy route – slammed a few celebrities in, got some quick wins, made some bucks and gone home,” said Mote. “It wouldn’t have changed anything. It wouldn’t have been different, innovative or fresh.
"Instead of which we decided we're actually going to make something that’s right for London and build long-term loyalty and get people excited about their capital city through TV.”
Mote explained that London Live wanted a brand proposition that was “modern, celebratory, urban and knowing.”
Starting with an empty canvas had allowed the technology to be innovative, too, pointed out Technology Director Bryn Balcombe.
He said: “It’s a massive advantage to start with a blank sheet of paper… I wanted to make sure that the content we produce, which comes out of news and current affairs or any programme we do in our studio, matches the online quality that you see. It should be a post-produced quality.”
Online content is streamed in HD, while broadcast comes in SD in order to meet the terms of London Live’s Ofcom licence.
“We’re the first in the world to do robotics in a studio environment live all the time,” added Balcombe. “Our primary camera is an industrial robot. The type of thing you can build a car with, that’s the type of thing we’re using in the studio.”
Jonathan Boseley, Head of Programming, admitted that commissioning shows on such tight budgets (the peak-time tariff is £20,000 per hour) had initially led to some scepticism from producers, but he said those doubts evaporated when it became clear that London Live wanted to try and do something new.
“The sort of production companies we’re working with want to play in this space because technology is changing the way you make programmes,” he said.
Producers appreciated the high speed of London Live’s commissioning process – sometimes a show is in production a fortnight or so following the original pitch meeting.
A recent show, Drag Queens of London, had provoked a big response on Twitter.
Head of News and Current Affairs Vikki Cook stressed that the channel aimed to bring a fresh take on the capital and avoid old staples such as endless vox pops filmed in Chiswick High Road.
She said: “I want it to be real, authentic [news], not news delivered through the filter of a chief sub.”
Cook is looking for a “slight cheekiness, a slight knowingness.”
London Live has already been hailed for its commitment to diversity on both sides of the screen. Presenter Gavin Ramjaun, who has worked for ITV and the BBC, told the RTS that he had fronted all of London Live’s live shows apart from the lunchtime show.
He said: “From having done television such as ITV’s Daybreak and This Morning I’ve done the traditional routes… At London Live, if you have a passion and a story to tell, you can get it on.
“Obviously, it has to be interesting and relevant to Londoners, but the thing that’s struck me most about this channel is that if you have an idea you can get it on air.
“I don’t just sit there and read an autocue… We write our own scripts and produce our own content.”
On the vexed topic of the show’s low audience figures, Andrew Mullins, CEO of London Live, suggested that Barb ratings were irrelevant to the upstart’s long-term prospects.
He said: “It’s phase one. We haven’t really started to do it with any real skill or capability yet…
“Who the hell cares about Barb ratings when you’ve got millions and millions of people picking up your news and current affairs across the internet, within the UK and worldwide. That’s the ambition.”
Mullins claimed that 20% of video viewing on The Independent’s website is by users watching London Live content; the broadcaster is backed by the owners of The Independent and The Evening Standard, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev.
The Independent website has 39 million unique users, according to Mullins.
He said that Barb was under-estimating the size of London Live’s audience by 50%.
The station's breakfast show, Wake Up London, has averaged only 2,400 viewers, according to Barb. But Mote claimed that, on average, 150,000 Londoners were tuning in to London Live daily.
She added: "In the first month, according to the same Barb figures that other people are quoting, we’ve had 2 million Londoners watching us. That is more than one in five Londoners."
“London Live - the first month”, was a joint RTS London Centre and RTS Early Evening Event held at ITV's London Studios on 30 April. A full report will be published in the June edition of Television. The producers were Terry Marsh and Martin Stott, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Channel 5.
Report by Steve Clarke
Pictures by Paul Hampartsoumian