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Why today's London Live launch is a game-changer for the capital

Ahead of today's launch of London Live, its editorial director, and former Campaign editor, Stefano Hatfield, explains why he believes the capital will never be the same again.

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Have you heard of the Food Junkies, F2 Kicks Off, Brothers With No Game, Drag Queens of London or SoundClash? How about Gavin Ramjaun, Marc Edwards, Claudia-Liza Armah and Louise Scodie? If these programme and presenter names are not familiar to you today, they soon will be.

That’s because after all the wishing and hoping, the bidding and planning, the designing, the brainstorms, the endless meetings in the atrium of Northcliffe House, the Powerpoint presentations, budgeting, building, wiring and  cabling (mile and miles of cabling), the hiring, rehearsing, piloting and nail-biting, London Live launches today. London’s media will never be the same again.

That’s a big claim. But, when the channel explodes onto the airwaves at 6.30pm tonight it will seem so obvious that it should be there, we’ll all be wondering why it hasn’t existed for years.

That said, there has been a mild degree of naysaying about London Live based in part on elephantine memories, the perceived challenges of launching a TV channel in the digital age and the word "local".

The occasional long-in-tooth media curmudgeon has thrown up Channel One, Associated Newspapers’ attempt at a London channel that launched in 1998.

Obviously, it failed. That was  largely because of severe distribution challenges in the early days of cable, plus its prohibitive technological cost base.

London Live has a potential audience of nine million people in four million homes, including its crucial Freeview 8, Sky 117 and Virgin 159 EPG positions and innovation in digital and other technology innovations have dramatically brought down the cost of entry.

The 90s was a pre Sky +, iPlayer, iTunes, smartphone and tablet era: another century, literally. London Live will be available on VoD, mobile, tablet, laptop and nationally streamed through londonlive.co.uk. Broadcasters can no longer expect their audience – especially, London Live’s target 16-34 audience - to come to them. They will choose when and where they want to watch.

Fast forward to 2014. Twitter, in particular, Facebook and other social media exist to share programming with that audience and let them share what they think of it with each other. Twitter, in particular, is integral to modern TV consumption.

London Live will be the first channel to launch with social media built into its DNA, rather than presenters merely filling time at the end of a segment by reading out one of the hundreds of tweets they have sought during the programme. It’s an exciting opportunity.

Which brings us to that word "local". London Live was one of 19 licences that were awarded last year. Grimsby was first and then Norwich’s Mustard TV launched last week. Others won’t appear before 2015.

However, London is at least six times bigger than any other franchise and many times more than that in most cases. The capital’s complex "city-state" relationship with the rest of the country is to London Live’s advantage.

Two shows that exemplify this are London Go, a 30-minute nightly magazine show about arts, ents and going out in the capital, and 14 to 1, a Saturday morning football show that guarantees each professional London club airtime every week. Neither could appear on any other channel.

Also unique is the borough by borough hyper-local coverage on the londonlive.co.uk website, where members of the public called London Eyes have the chance to be vloggers about their communities.

"It’s only London" is a curious phrase. So many broadcasters (and newspaper editors) are nervous about focusing on the capital for fear of viewer (or reader) backlash in the regions, let alone fulfilling "quotas".

There are thousands of London stories to tell in more depth than current broadcasters are able. What’s more, many production companies are London-based. Big or small, they have leapt at the chance of reversing two decades of anti-London programming bias to pitch London stories to the channel’s commissioning team.

The emphasis is on "fresh" talent, not necessarily new, but new to television. Many of the personalities are not bold-faced names – yet – but already have vast followings on You Tube, Twitter and Facebook. All About The Mckenzies starring Samuell Benta and The Adventures of T-Boy featuring You Tuber "Don’t Jealous Me" (aka Tolulope Ogunmefun) are examples.

Excited social "chatter" around these shows migrating to television reflects that new relationship between artist, fan and medium.

London Live, whose headline launch sponsor is L’Oreal Studio Line, is also unveiling a new commercial initiative called Shop London, an hour-long daily showcase for longer-form banded TV content, starting in May. The idea is akin to a department store in which brands take a concession.

The first to sign up is Westfield, which will take a 15-minute a day slot, positioning the shopping brand as a "credible authority on London fashion".

Viewers will be directed to the Shop London website on mobiles or tablets where they can buy products shown on the TV.

So, there are new initiatives in news, programming, commercial and use of social media. However, at heart is a traditional idea: reconnecting audiences with programming they really care about, and reflecting the public’s taste back through the screen.

Look at the acquired London-based cult shows, ranging from Misfits and The Shadow Line to Peep Show and Twenty Twelve. These series will drive audience trial.

London Live can’t be a mini Channel 4 or BBC 3 (RIP) but with smaller budgets – if it tries to do so, it will die. It must stick to its modern, urban and celebratory positioning and be unlike anything else.

It needs to be young at heart, nimble and diverse, reflecting all of London not just W8 or W1A. Above all it needs to retain that focus on London, its key point of difference, and the reason it exists. "Be Part Of It"? Those of us living and working in the capital already are.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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