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April 28, 2014updated 30 Apr 2014 5:47pm

London Live chief exec hits back over ‘aggressively negative’ coverage as Hatfield departs

By William Turvill

London Live chief executive Andrew Mullins has said low Barb viewing figures do not reflect the fact that many are watching the channel in on-demand form via devices other than televisions.

And, as it emerged that launch editorial director Stefano Hatfield has left the station, he revealed that London Live's future may be entirely "non linear" – ie. as an on-demand, rather than broadcast, service.

Mullins has said the station’s figures are “very much in line” with its aims, based on equivalent figures from stations whose success London Live hopes to emulate.

He also defended the coverage given to the station in the Evening Standard.

“Does everyone want to do miles better? Of course they always do,” he told Press Gazette.

“We’ve said we want a 0.7 per cent share [of London viewers] by the end of year one, and of the channels we're monitoring at the same stage of their launches, we’re doing no worse, no better, than they did in terms of audience growth.”

He added: “I’m amazed people haven’t been slightly more… understanding of the challenge that you face. Instead of going: 'I’m a 50-year-old BBC One viewer and it doesn’t look like BBC One to me.’”

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Mullins explained that London Live is there to “complement rather than substitute” existing programming from channels such as the BBC.

“If you’re going to do what Ofcom wants us to do, which is to provide a channel for London using a new original content from London and a breadth of different types of programming, it will reflect the type of programming that doesn’t sit comfortably with people who spend their whole life watching BBC and are well-off, middle-aged, living in Surrey, coming in by train [to London] every day.”

Tough start

It appears to have been a tough start for London Live after launching on 31 March. 

Last week, Forbes reported Barb figures showing that the station's three-hour breakfast programme, Wake Up London, has scored an average of 2,400 viewers. Its 6.30pm programme, London Go, meanwhile, has recorded 300 viewers on three occasions, according to Barb.

On Friday, Press Gazette interviewed 26 people in Central London: four had heard of the station – broadcast on Freeview channel eight – and, of those, two had watched it.

Meanwhile, London Live's executive director Stefano Hatfield revealed on Friday he was leaving the station less than a month after it went live to work on a new start-up outside the Lebedev-owned media empire. Hatfield was also launch editorial director of the i newspaper in October 2010.

Mullins, who is also managing director of the Evening Standard and Independent titles, told Press Gazette Hatfield had always planned to leave London Live at this time, though he was initially expected to move on within the company.

"This new opportunity sounds very exciting for Stef and I wish him all the best," said Mullins.

"He has been terrific throughout all of his roles at ESI Media, whether on i or London Live, and he will be missed. Many of the London Live team were employed only to get us to launch through the huge pre-launch workload."

Meanwhile, Mullins said that the Barb numbers, which he said had been reported in an "aggressively negative" manner, do not square up with the station’s own figures, which he said are independent.

He also pointed out that the figures have their shortcomings: “Barb by their own admission admit that 16-34-year-olds are not watching TV and they’re not being able to be recorded any more”.

Mullins said that the channel was specifically launched to be non-linear as well as linear, so available via internet on-demand services. Barb works via data from monitoring devices placed in televisions in some 5,000 homes around the UK.

“We started from scratch believing this would be a linear and non-linear channel, which will probably move to non-linear because the BBC subsidy through to Freeview cuts out in three years,” he said.

“And that’s the way we think it will go: multi-platform, people accessing through devices.

“So we’ve never set out for it to be a single success on Barb-related linear TV viewing. And when we create news, current affairs programmes, we want it to go across all of our platforms.

“And the viewing, we want it to be on demand and we want it to actually be streamed.”

Some 19 TV stations are being launched around the UK this year supported by £25m of BBC money to support the broadcasting infrastructure, and £5m a year to support programmes for the first three years. Some 25 local TV licences have been awarded so far.

Newspaper support

London Live, which employs 55 people full-time, has the advantage of regularly featuring content from Standard and Independent journalists.

The station’s editors also attend the papers’ news conferences and so have access to their news before other broadcasters.

Asked about stories London Live had broken itself, Mullins said the station led the way with the death of three children in New Malden last week, featuring the news two hours before other television stations.

While last week’s Barb figures created negative press for the channel, London Live has not been short of positive coverage in its sister newspaper, the Evening Standard.

Responding to criticism on the coverage from the likes of Private Eye, Mullins said: “Newspapers I don’t think have to follow the broadcasters’ code of due impartiality.

“Let’s talk about what the Express wants to cover, what the Mail wants to cover, what Private Eye wants to cover. They’re totally entitled to cover whatever they like… the Standard can do what the hell it likes. And, to be honest, the Standard completely and utterly believes in London Live – and so why shouldn’t it?

“Everyone knows this is a very, very tough gig to pull off and if we weren’t trying to work everything to our advantage to try to make it work we’d be foolish really. Because reams of people are queuing up to say how local TV won’t work, so I think to be honourable and say we won’t use the Standard to publicise it is cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

He pointed out that every pitch for the local TV licence in London was affiliated with newspapers and so coverage in the written press would follow.

Asked how the Standard would cover the station under different, rival ownership, Mullins said: “We’d probably have to be slightly more aggressive – but fair. The motivation of some people sometimes does baffle me."

Straw poll: Two out of 26 Londoners have watched new channel

By Sam Corney

One in 13 people vox-popped by Press Gazette in Central London had watched the capital's new local TV station, London Live.

Of 26 people who spoke to us, in the Blackfriars area, four had heard of the station, including one Evening Standard employee, who had not yet watched it.

Norman Relph, a delivery driver, said he had watched London Live briefly and that it was "okay".

Sharon Stevens said she had “not seen much", adding: "It’s okay, nothing to write home about."

A third Londoner, Ms Bond, said she had heard of the station “very vaguely”.

And the fourth person in our survey who had heard of the channel was an Evening Standard employee who said she had not watched London Live herself yet.

But she described it as "an invaluable source of information", adding: “I wish it success."

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