The Evening Standard's opportunity with community TV

Just after Boris Johnson was elected for a second term last year, an announcement was made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which we would have all been forgiven for missing - even those of us in the business of public sector communications.

Luke Blair: 'Upbeat' about the opportunities around community TV
Luke Blair: 'Upbeat' about the opportunities around community TV

The department announced that towns and cities across the UK would be getting their own local TV stations, and that the bidding had opened for operators to win licences to run these new franchises.

Twenty-one areas across the UK were given the opportunity to launch their own local TV stations, under Government plans to set up a new network of town and city-based television channels.

Fast forward almost a year and earlier this month (February) it was announced that Ofcom had awarded the licence to run the local TV service in London to the Evening Standard.

The paper’s ‘London Live’ channel is expected to cover around four million homes, the largest audience of all the new local TV services.

In its own words, ‘London Live’ promises to 'provide a new interactive TV service that actively engages Londoners in the creation and delivery of local news, current affairs and community programming, broadcast on Freeview (ch8), Virgin (news & Tivo) , Sky (ch117 & yellow button), mobile devices and VOD'.

This will be done by providing 'high quality programming that informs and entertains Londoners and improves their quality of life.'

Bold ambitions indeed. Particularly if you have ever caught sight of the current ‘community TV’ channels available in the UK already – or for that matter public community broadcasting in the US. Think YouTube, but with less hype, less hysteria, fewer jokes, and a lot less creativity.

Broadcast quality is about the same, too.

So how Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev pulls it off will be interesting to see. Certainly it will consolidate his media empire in the capital, which appears to be going from strength to strength, especially online.  

Both Lebedev titles – the Standard and the Independent – reported rocketing growth of 45% and 25%, respectively, in terms of average daily unique online browsers (January, month-on-month).

The trick will be to consolidate content, mix it up across platforms, but not lose quality, creativity or control.

There has already been talk of integrating newsdesks between the Independent and Standard, in a similar seven-day move already undergone by other newspapers, and inevitably some talk of job losses.

Personally, though, I remain upbeat.  As I see it, the current standard of community TV can only be raised and the way we all receive our news these days need to keep changing, evolving and developing as we become ever more tech-savvy – a London-focused channel with a heavyweight backer clearly here to stay can, surely, only be a good thing.

Luke blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

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