Intrepid Indy owners the Lebedevs bet the dacha on new TV station London Live

The Independent newspaper, which also publishes a separate Sunday edition, the cut-price 20p i and the London Evening Standard, is cutting a further 27 jobs as it tries to narrow trading losses of £16.6m.

The company is owned by the ever-newsworthy Lebedevs: Russian oligarch (and former KGB agent) Alexander has just been punished with 150 hours of community service in Russia after punching a fellow chat show guest (it could have been worse, he could have got five years) while son Evgeny, who runs the company these days, seems to appear in the Standard even more often than his controversial columnist Charles Saatchi.

All of which is about par for the course is embattled old Fleet Street these days except that the Lebedevs have also been given the contract to run London Live, the flagship station in former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s scheme to dot the UK with local TV operations.

Former i (and Campaign) editor Stefano Hatfield is busy recruiting a reported 60 people for London Live.

But it’s by no mean clear that local TV stations, even a London one, will make money. Even supporters acknowledge it will be an uphill struggle in the early years. The only realistic source of revenue is advertising and neither media agencies nor advertisers are actually crying out for another broadcast medium.

That being the case, do the Lebedevs actually have the money to bankroll a loss-making TV station on top of loss-making newspapers?

Alexander Lebedev is reported to be a Russian ‘oligarch’ with interests in banking and other industries – which implies Roman Abramovitch-like resources. But Chelsea FC owner Abramovitch has always been careful to stay on the right side of the authorities in Russia (aka Vladimir Putin) which Lebedev senior most assuredly has not. In fact he has determinedly tweaked Vlad’s tail, which is one reason he came so close to going to jail.

And Putin’s enemies, like one-time oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky (currently imprisoned) tend to get poorer – rapidly.

In many ways the Lebedevs have been a breath of fresh air on the UK media scene. They haven’t done a bad job with the Indy (although, like its liberal rival the Guardian it will probably never make money), i is excellent and the London Evening Standard is doing a lot better (inching into profit) as a free paper than it did with a cover price under former owner Associated Newspapers.

But the newspapers are hardly cash cows. Even with the ad market improving, London Live is a big punt for the intrepid Russians.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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