Is anybody still watching London Live? Was anybody ever watching in the first place. London's local TV channel started broadcasting two years ago, but has struggled to find its niche in a busy digital world. The owner of the Evening Standard has sunk millions into the project, it even has the prestigious number 8 slot on Freeview, but viewers have been hard to come by. You'd think a TV channel for London by London about London would be a winner. Alas London Live seems anything but.
Local TV suffers from a lack of exposure by means of its parochiality. The national press provides listings for national channels, but rarely local, because at least 90% of the country wouldn't be interested. Even the regional press, even when it's owned by the same people, fails to drive regular viewers channel 8's way. The Evening Standard gives wilfully biased coverage to its sister channel, giving it prime position in its daily TV Guide, and previewing no shows on any channels other than its own. But when that means over-optimistic blurb about tonight's repeat of Misfits and some film Danny Dyer used to be in before he was famous, all it does is highlight London Live's paltry range of wares.
Most bafflingly, the Evening Standard only publishes London Live's weekday evening schedule. There's never any attempt to suggest that programmes actually started at dawn, or that an hour and a half of news ran sometime over breakfast. And as for the idea that weekend programming might exist, the Standard never publishes a Saturday or Sunday listing on a Friday, so who knows what black and white movie or documentary recap you might be missing out on. For a publishing medium with a vested interest in London Live's success, cross-promotion would look incredibly tacky, but its absence remains a total mystery.
What's missing on the channel is a must-see strand or series, indeed I don't think London Live has ever achieved a watercooler moment in its two year history. A hotchpotch schedule of series you didn't watch in the 90s and films your parents probably watched in the 50s doesn't inspire the imagination. Its evening news bulletin isn't amazing but it isn't bad, with actual journalists reporting on actual Londoners in their actual settings, and often issue- rather than PR-led. BBC local radio does much of the same thing much of the time, only without the pictures, so why do people prefer to listen rather than to watch?
In the United States local TV channels are legion, and popular. In the UK, seemingly not. Micro-regional TV simply hasn't taken off, despite the existence in London of a potential audience of several million. We barely know it exists, it fails to register amongst our daily choices, and quite frankly we're not missing out on much. I mean look.
Yesterday's schedule on London Live 05:00-10:00 London Live Review, Ten Years Younger (S2E5), London Real, Desmond's (S6E7), London Live News 10:00-14:00 Desmond's (S06E13), London's Burning (S11E5), The Headline Interview, London Live News 14:00-18:00 Ealing Studios film (1943), Movie Talk, Famous Rich and Homeless (S1E2), Desmond's (S1E3, S1E4) 18:00-22:00 London Live News, The Fried Chicken Shop (S1E2), Desmond's (S1E1, S1E2) 22:00-05:00 Candy Bar Girls (E2), Mona Lisa (film 1986), Chromophobia (film 2005), London Real
They can't even broadcast their six episodes of Desmond's in the right order! And just because a film or series was set in London doesn't mean it's something Londoners want to watch. This uninspiring mix is what running a TV channel on a shoestring gets you.
So I thought I'd hunt down the viewing figures. Here are the top five programmes on London Live during the last week in January.
1) Ealing Studios: Nine Men (Wed pm, 32000) 2) Desmond's (Mon eve, 29000) 3) Desmond's (Mon eve, 28000) 4) Snow Leopards of Leafy London (Sun eve, 27000) 5) Ealing Studios: Bitter Springs (Sat pm, 26000)
The top rated show was a patriotic war film made in 1943 shown mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. No other programme managed to top thirty thousand viewers. But that black and white matinee pulled in 0.37% of the population of London. Admit it, you're surprised it's that much.
For contrast, here's the top 5 on BBC3, the yoof channel Auntie banished online earlier this week.
1) Film: Die Hard With A Vengeance (Sat, 758000) 2) Traffic Cops (Thu, 723000) 3) Family Guy (Wed, 574000) 4) Film: Alice in Wonderland (Fri, 561000) 5) Family Guy (Wed, 547000)
And, because I've been completely sidetracked by finding a website that lists TV audiences, here are the most watched programmes on a variety of UK channels in the last week of January.
BBC1: Call the Midwife (Sun, 9497000) ITV: Coronation Street (Mon, 6943000) BBC2: The Real Marigold Hotel (Tue, 4130000) Channel 5: Celebrity Big Brother (Fri, 3028000) Channel 4: The Jump (Sun, 2410000) Sky Sports 1: Liverpool v Stoke (Tue, 1245000) Sky 1: Stan Lee's Lucky Man (Fri, 1226000) ITV3: Midsomer Murders (Sat, 1121000) E4: Tattoo Fixers (Tue, 1014000) ITV2: Take Me Out - the Gossip (Sat, 773000) BBC3: Die Hard With A Vengeance (Sat, 758000) BBC4: The Young Montalbano (Sat, 744000) CBeebies: The Clangers (Wed, 551000) Dave: Sin City Motors (Wed, 360000) Cartoon Network: The Amazing World of Gumball (Tue, 121000) S4C: Clwb Rygbi (Sun, 71000) BBC Parliament: Prime Minister's Question Time (Wed, 50000) London Live: Ealing Studios: Nine Men (Wed, 32000) Discovery Shed: Total Fishing With Matt Hayes (Sat, 28000) Al Jazeera: News (Thu, 20000)
When London Live is being outgunned by a Welsh language channel which broadcasts to country with one-third the population of London, you have to wonder what it's doing wrong. What does a capital-based TV channel have to do to win an audience?