London Live chief executive Steve Auckland: 'The easy call for me is to close it'

The chief executive of London Live has warned that the rest of Evgeny Lebedev’s media operation cannot “keep propping up” the local TV station.

Steve Auckland, who is chief executive across the TV station, Evening Standard and Independent titles, said London Live is under “constant review” in an interview.

He told Campaign magazine that the “easy call” for him would be to “close” the station, which was launched at the end of March last year.

In the interview, Auckland, who was made chief executive of ESI Media in October after moving from the same position at Metro, also questioned the Government's local TV initiative generally. This comes after Labour's shadow culture secretary described local TV as a "vanity project" earlier this week.

On London Live, Auckland (pictured below) said: "We can link in homes and property [with the Evening Standard], that’s fine but it has to now stand on its own two feet as a business. We can’t keep propping it up.

"We haven’t got a magic wand. The guys have done a great job with what they have. It’s been a great experience for Lebedev.

"The easy call for me is to close it. It’s an expensive exercise and to be honest a lot of people say to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to carry on with this’.

"They have got some, small, traction. Have we got everything right yet? No. But once we have and if we’re still losing costs, then we close it. We’ll see where it takes us over the next six months or so."

Earlier this year, it was announced that 20 jobs – representing around a third of staff – were to be cut at London Live.

According to Barb figures for April, episodes of Da Ali G Show represented seven of the channel’s top ten watched programmes, with the top recording 46,000 viewers.

In October, Ofcom accepted London Live’s bid to cut its local programming output, and last week the station was released from its commitment to increase the amount of local programming it creates in its second year. Currently, London Live is required to broadcast eight hours of first-run local programming every day, and three hours during peak time (6-10.30pm).

According to Freeview.co.uk, 17 local TV stations have so far been launched in the UK, with 19 planned in the first “wave”.

Last June, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended the local TV policy he introduced as Culture Secretary

Hunt, who was culture secretary between May 2010 and September 2012, first outlined proposals for a network of local TV channels in January 2011 before inviting media operators to bid for the right to broadcast in cities across the country.

The Financial Times reported him as saying: “There is a great desire in the Westminster media world to write off ‘local yokel stations'…

“If New York can manage six local TV stations the idea that London cannot sustain one is bonkers, despite the desire of competitors to rubbish it.”

He added: “All these local TV stations will be a success… There will be some that go bust, that is the nature of things.”

But speaking on the Daily Politics programme this week, new shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant described local TV as a “vanity project”.

Asked about potential changes to the BBC licence fee, which also funds local TV, ahead of next year’s charter renewal for the corporation, Bryant said: “We said very clearly that we thought that the vanity project that was local TV was a complete waste of BBC licence fee payers’ money and that should be put [to] a stop.”

In 2013, former Labour culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said he believed local TV would be a “flop”.

“This was an obsession of Jeremy Hunt’s at the time,” he told Press Gazette.

“Even his independent review came back and said it was a waste of money – it will never work.

“But as it was his only idea he went ahead and pushed it. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Asked in his Campaign interview about local TV generally, Auckland said: "What made the government do it in the first place? They were worried about the loss of local news. When you get government getting involved in stuff like that it’s just a joke. The government shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

"I was at Northcliffe [now Local World] and we didn’t back any of them, we just couldn’t see a path to profit in each of the areas."

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