Lebedev’s London Live launches with high hopes – but it may need to lower its expectations

It’s a busy week ahead in the capital with Advertising Week playing host to some luminaries including David Droga and Sir Martin Sorrell and, of greater long-term significance no doubt, the launch of Evgeny Lebedev’s new ‘local’ TV station London Live.

imagesLebedev (left), who also owns the Evening Standard and the Independent titles with dad Alexander (currently becalmed in Russia) will be hoping that London Live (thank goodness they resisted the temptation to add an exclamation mark) is anything but ‘local’ – that its potential reach of nine million people in four million households makes it the equivalent of a smaller national channel, London as ‘city state.’

To recoup the money it’s costing – £15m in year one – London Live needs to persuade national advertisers and, crucially, the handful of big media agencies who dispose of most of their business, that it’s worth a cost per thousand adults of £3-£3.50 tops, no mean feat with billions of ad money flooding online and into social media.

The Standard’s successful formula of flooding the capital with free copies to hoover up entertainment and retail ads won’t work for London Live. The station starts broadcasting at 6.30 for five and a half hours, making it difficult to build an audience, some of whom will be somewhere else (like Channel 4’s Countdown) while most will be struggling home with their copy of the Standard or in the pub.

Unknown-5Will a diet of national cum local news, bought-in programmes and the station’s raft of young wannabees be enough to lure a loyal audience? It might be, if the station’s very good and wins the legions of fans it’s targeting via social media. But it might not, even if it is very good.

The history of new TV stations in the UK is one of high-minded (and under-funded) aspirations shortly followed by a swift recourse to lowest common denominator telly. 30 years ago the original commercial breakfast TV broadcaster TV-AM (boasting a star-studded line-up of presenters including Anna Ford and Michael Parkinson) was roundly stuffed by the BBC and ITV and had to recruit Greg Dyke and puppet Roland Rat before it became a commercial success.

That was a long time ago, of course, but the TV market is even more competitive now. Most of the evidence shows that three sings attract today’s audiences: sport, celebrity and high quality drama.

£15m doesn’t get you many episode of Game of Thrones so sport and celebrity will need to play important roles at London Live. News, alas, doesn’t pull in the punters when it’s ubiquitous.

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