Cast aside your cynicism and admire the audacity of Evgeny Lebedev's aim

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week

We're in the final countdown to the launch of London Live, and I'm unashamedly banging the drum.

To be cynical about a local TV channel for London, put together by a bunch of press folk, is all too easy.

The very idea of local TV, the brainchild of Jeremy Hunt, has attracted criticism from the start. Hunt’s comparisons with media in the US were flawed from the outset, his critics (of which there were many) claimed.

Hunt suggested the fact that Birmingham, Alabama (population: 210,000), has eight local TV services while Birmingham, UK (population: 1.1 million), does not have one highlighted the gap in the market. However, on closer inspection, US television is divided into major affiliate "networks", more akin to the old ITV franchise model than individual local services.

Meanwhile, Hunt’s high-minded idea of providing local communities with a new platform through which to hold politicians to account – part of the Big Society (remember that?) – was roundly dismissed as idealist and quaint. Yet, on we ploughed.

Commercially, the fear has always been that any government-backed local TV service will end up competing with the already embattled local newspapers and commercial radio for ads.

'London Live promises to catapult both the Standard and The Indy back in the game in terms of digital'

Let’s also remember that both the BBC and ITV offer regional news as part of their public-service remit. Suffice to say, it was not the most celebrated of conceptions. Indeed, as London Live’s chief executive, Andrew Mullins, now freely tells us, the group was not initially interested in Hunt’s vision (read my interview with Andy Mullins here).

But that was back in early 2012. Fast forward to today, and Mullins views the local TV service as an essential addition. You have to admire the audacity. When Evgeny Lebedev gave the green light to submit a bid in 2012, his papers were losing more than £2 million a month. The decision injected a new sense of purpose into the group and promises to catapult both the Standard and The Indy back in the game in terms of digital. Chief among the buzzwords currently being bandied around Northcliffe House are "fresh", "dynamic" and "different".

The channel will not be challenging ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 for ratings any time soon, and Jon O’Donnell’s sales team will be lucky to pull in £10 million by year three, but that’s not how success will be measured. London Live is less about launching a TV channel and more about future-proofing a publishing group as a fit-for-purpose multimedia company.

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