1. London Live is going to launch on Monday, promising 24 hour a day broadcasting for the capital.
By far the biggest of the stations being launched as part of the government’s proposals for local TV, London Live will broadcast on Freeview Channel 8 and other digital TV services from Monday evening.
It’s being backed by the man in the picture above: Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent and Evening Standard newspapers. The station bills itself as “the first 24 hour entertainment channel devoted exclusively to the capital”.
Viewers are promised news, original comedy programming and a focus on new talent with the audience encouraged to send in their own videos for a chance to appear on screen. There’ll also be re-runs of shows such as Peep Show and 2012.
2. But perhaps more interesting is that this isn’t actually the first time that London has had its own 24 hour station.
In the early 1990s the UK’s newly-arrived cable TV companies were locked in in a pay-TV battle with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky. And they wanted someone to provide a London-centric channel to help boost their standing.
So, much as all current media executives are convinced that they must “do something with the internet”, newspaper groups started queueing up to get involved in the belief that their readers would migrate to the new medium.
3. So twenty years ago Trinity Mirror – then part owner of The Independent newspaper – planned to launch a station called, er, London Live.
[David Montgomery] outlined his vision for a London city TV channel called London Live. It was just the ticket. It would run on all the local London cable stations at the same time. Even if few people watch it, as seemed likely at first, it would give them experience in working together, and this could lead to bigger things.
4. But instead they lost out to a bid from Associated Newspapers, owner of the Daily Mail, to produce a news channel that relied on staff from, er, the Evening Standard.
Associated plans were much more definite: a combined news and entertainment channel based on a tie-up with Alan McKeown’s SelecTV… The plan was to build a schedule around repeats of SelecTV’s vast back catalogue of hit shows. This would be mixed with live news bulletins using the Evening Standard’s expertise and other cheap and cheerful studio-based materials like chat-shows.
5. What eventually launched was a 24 hour broadcaster called Channel One, which stayed on air for for four years between 1994 and 1998.
The channel’s launch team included Michael Rosenblum, who has described how the experience turned sour after a few months when management made the misguided decision to replace lightweight cameras with more professional technology:
Soon, ‘standard’ tripods, batteries, cases, light kits and so on followed. It was a disaster. The quality of the work collapsed.
Exhausted from dragging around all the gear (they were given little luggage carts), the best they could do was put the cameras on their tripods, get a few exterior shots, a few soundbites and a stand up and truck it on home. An enormous new emphasis was placed on the standups. The light, fast moving, funny and creative work was replaced with a leaden ‘local news’ look anyone would recognize.
It was unwatchable. A mess. A few years later the whole operation was mercifully shut down. A disaster. It could have been avoided. It could have been avoided had management had the courage to ‘stay the course’. (Not to sound like someone else I would rather not be associated with). Never the less, television news is a very very conservative and traditional business. It is highly risk averse. It moves incrementally.
7. Technology has improved a lot since then, overcoming many of these issues.
Still, BuzzFeed understands that there a few teething issues with the set-up, such as a freezing cold studio that means the station is warning guests to wrap up warm before going on air.
In addition, it was decided that the the television studio should be built in the corner of the combined Evening Standard and Independent office to provide a backdrop of a busy newsroom for the presenters. Unfortunately the Evening Standard staff go home mid-afternoon, meaning some Independent say they have had to switch desks halfway through the day to ensure there’s enough active print journalists in back of camera shots.
But there’s still good reason to be optimistic about the service: unlike the tiny cable TV audience of the 1990s almost every home in London will be able to watch London Live. And the enormously successful 900,000 circulation Evening Standard will be promoting the channel heavily to Londoners over the coming weeks and months.
8. But what about the original proposal for a station called London Live? Well, that went through a few iterations, went national and became Kelvin McKenzie’s Live TV channel. Home of the news bunny, topless darts and the weather presented by a dwarf.
Sadly you’re unlikely to see any of these shows, or “The Weather in Norwegian”, on the new London Live.