Is London Live Owner Lebedev Playing The Culture Secretary?

The Culture Secretary has been warned time and again by people that he should listen to that parachuting in state-aided local television channels just won't work.

Yesterday, Jeremy Hunt got the confirmation that analysts and writers, including me, have said all along. There simply isn't sufficient demand in a small country like the UK to have city-specific news-based television stations in major towns and cities, let alone multiple stations that he has always dreamed of.

In one fell swoop the dream collapsed yesterday when London Live sought permission to drastically reduce its original London-based content. It wants to reduce nightly, prime-time London- based original programming from three hours to one as well as drop a commitment to show ten hours of London-centric repeats each day.

So ask yourself this. If a channel that has been given a Freeview number of 8 and which serves London cannot make a go of local television, which town or city can? What does Jeremy Hunt think will happen to the millions of pounds of subsidies handed out to local television companies in the likes of Norwich, Nottingham and Grimsby? What was so wrong with the regional BBC or ITV television news for these areas? If there was such demand for local programming, does he not think the local and regional press would have started churning out more video content online?

I write a lot about SMEs and the one thing that causes them to bleed money, other than poor cash flow, is the accountant's favourite -- the pet project. Everyone knows the guy in charge is backing a loser, but nobody dare put him or her right. That's exactly what's happening here -- and the fact his vision cannot work with a single station in London underlines the flaw in the logic that Hunt will go down as the politician who launched a local television revolution across the country.

With London Live, however, there are some very interesting questions to ask. It will be a fascinating one to watch.

Russian oligarchs are, by definition, pretty shrewd movers. So you might well ask why the owner of The London Evening Standard and The Independent, Evgeny Lebedev, would invest in London Live -- putting in a GBP10m programming budget for the first year?

Maybe he thought it was a good idea. Perhaps he thought it would make a lot of money or at least defend his London paper from another media company coming in and taking the license and a slice of London-based advertising revenue?

Then again, you just never know. With it being the pet project of Jeremy Hunt and thus the present government, did he think that if things didn't pan out he would have the safety option of agreeing to keep a failing station open so that everyone could save face? The price would be a dramatic reduction in the London-based programming that is expensive to make and doesn't get sufficient audiences or advertising revenue. 

The prize, then, might well be a tv channel with a snappy title, a reduced commitment to unpopular, expensive programmes and perhaps most importantly, a prime spot on Freeview and YouView of Channel 8 (as well as a channel on Sky and Virgin).

I wonder how much one of those would go for on the open market compared to a channel that strokes the ego of the Culture Secretary but bleeds money?

Poker players know a truth about life. It's summed up in their favourite saying, which Jeremy Hunt might do well to learn.

There's a fool round every table and if you don't know who it is, it's probably you.

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