London Live hasn't even been live for a month yet (just 26 days) yet already people are ringing the death knell. But are the ratings really "disastrous"?
Ratings figures were published on Thursday in a Forbes piece by contributor Neil Midgley, which revealed figures from Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) for three of the station's flagship programmes – live news and current affairs "that fill five and a half hours every weekday" – were startlingly low:
- An average of 2,400 viewers for the Wake Up London show, which broadcasts for three hours each morning (and peaked at 15,100 viewers on April 2nd)
- Eight occasions where there was no measurable audience for Wake Up London, resulting in a Barb score of zero viewers
- An average of 5,600 viewers for a half-hour show broadcast at 6:30pm called London Go (which peaked at 38,000 viewers on launch night)
- Three instances where only 300 people watched London Go
- An average of 4,000 viewers for an hour-long programme called Not The One Show, which goes out at 7:00pm (and peaked at 20,900 viewers on launch night)
- 200 viewers for Not The One Show on Easter Monday
But although those figures are low, they don't tell the full picture...
Daily and weekly reach
In the "Total Viewing Summary" figures for the most recent recorded week (April 7-13) London Live had an average daily reach of 175,000. Ranking the total list of 285 channels from largest to smallest by average daily reach, London Live lands smack in the middle in position 142.
Not bad for a channel 26 days old.
There are several (or rather 145) channels that didn't perform as well as London Live, many of them well-known: BBC Parliament, VH-1, S4C and Kerrang!, for example.
Ranking the figures by average weekly reach, London Live fares even better, in position 137. And let's not forget London Live is a city-centric channel amongst a list of channels mostly broadcast over the whole of the country.
Then there's the list of the top 10 most popular shows, ranked by average weekly viewing figures for the week April 7th - 13th. The most popular show for that week was "Extreme Playgrounds" which averaged 27,000 viewers. In position 10 is show "Twenty Twelve" which averaged 18,000. The average viewing figures across all top 10 shows was 21,200 for that week.
Freeview retuning and online watching
And in contrast to the figures from the Forbes piece, London Live CEO Andrew Mullins tells us the show that apparently no-one is watching – "Not The One Show" – was the most popular show last week among the target audience of 18 to 34-year-olds.
Recently broadcast original content, Drag Queens of London, also had 30,000 people watching online: evidence of the different ways in which the channel's target audience consume video – more young people are consuming more "watch-when-you-want" online programming over (and on top of) traditional linear TV scheduling.
Many people also won't have retuned their freeview sets to pick up London Live, meaning the station won't yet be broadcasting to its maximum potential audience. It's not possible to know if people aren't watching the station because they don't want to, or because they haven't retuned yet, so the figures could pick up in the coming months. Equally they may not.
Mullins tells us that "What we do know is that more people are watching us on Sky at the moment than they are through Freeview," which given Sky's automatic retuning suggests that perhaps the numbers watching on Freeview have a lot of room for growth.
Not your standard TV fare
But perhaps the biggest point to make in London Live's defence is that it isn't your standard TV channel.
London Live is designed to be part of a multi-platform advertising offering that ties in with the Evening Standard, Independent and i newspapers which also uses those newspapers' resources.
And long-term, the channel is designed to help the company create a library of content that can be used across the other brands. It also has no legacy and isn't part of another TV network, like a lot of channel launches.
There's still every chance things won't work out for the channel. TV is a very expensive business and needs scale which yes, at the moment it doesn't appear to have. There's also the news that London Live's editorial director, Stefano Hatfield, resigned to be involved in another launch, which could make things more difficult for the channel, although Hatfield suggests his departure isn't to do with the recent ratings:
But it's far too early to take the first few days of viewing figures and draw any hugely insightful meaning from them. And in a world where video looks increasingly vital to the survival of newspapers, taking advantage of the opportunity to launch a local TV station that will build video capability and bring in at least some revenue while it does so, makes sense.