letterfromlondon2.gif (1322 bytes)

 The Financial Times - It Pays To Be In The Pink

Bare-chested women playing darts attracted huge publicity but did little to improve audience ratings,which remained constrained by the channel's limited cable distribution

UK's Live TV, wacky cable
at its best, pulls the plug

Gone: Topless darts, stripping stock tipster

By Simon Bond

The closure of cable station Live TV, announced last week, marks the end of one of the braver attempts to bring original programming to the otherwise bland offerings of multi-channel TV in the UK.
     However, before we get too deep into our wake for the channel that bought us stammering news presenters, a stripping stock tipster called Tiffany, trampolining dwarves, and a bikini-clad weather forecaster who delivered her bulletin in Norwegian, it is important to remember that at best Live scored just over 1 per of a cable audience that has yet to exceed 4 million homes.
    Rarely has so much been said about a television station that was watched by so few. From its launch in 1995, Live TV was rarely out of the headlines.
    Despite the wealth of publicity, the slow progress of cable acceptance in the UK finally bled the station dry and the Trinity Mirror group, which owns the station, has made the decision to close Live down.
    Sobriety and financial good sense has finally won the day over the self-promotion and sensationalism that was the basis of the channel's launch back in 1995.
   At the time, three of the most colorful figures in the UK media industry conspired to launch Live.
     David Montgomery, who had left News Corp. in 1992 to run the competing Mirror Group of newspapers, put his weight behind the channel as a foil to Rupert Murdoch's expanding pay-TV empire.
   Janet Street-Porter, who had been the high priestess of youth television at the BBC, was brought in to run Live, which it is claimed she envisaged as "Hello! magazine on acid."
     Finally, Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of Rupert Murdoch's best selling UK tabloid The Sun, was enlisted to provide his own style of populism and "cunning stunts" to keep the channel in the news.
       This heady mixture of personalities soon proved itself to be totally unworkable.
     Following a series of clashes with MacKenzie that were well documented in a no-holds-barred, fly-on-the wall documentary about the channel's launch, Street-Porter walked out. Street-Porter's career then followed a tortuous path, but she has now settled in the editor's seat of the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
     Following Street-Porter's departure from Live, MacKenzie was able to steer the channel according to his own uniquely tabloid agenda.
    In January 1996, he launched "Topless Darts," the programming strand for which Live will go down in history for creating. The showing of bare chested women playing darts attracted huge publicity but did little to improve audience ratings,which remained constrained by the channel's limited cable distribution.
     The continuing frustration with getting an audience for Live eventually proved too much for MacKenzie, and after a brief stint as deputy chief executive of the Mirror Group he also left the channel to set up his own company and successfully bid for Talk Radio, the national station which he runs today.
     Ironically, after years of its balance sheets hemorrhaging red ink, Live recently announced that it had finally turned the corner towards profitability.
     However, it was already too late as far as its owners at the Trinity Mirror group were concerned and they condemned the channel as a "non-core asset."
     Trinity Mirror is now reported to be in advanced negotiations with the UK's leading cable operator, NTL, which are interested in buying the channel for around $30 million in order to exploit its carriage contracts.
     For viewers, the closure will mean little as so few had the opportunity to watch the channel in the first place.
    But for the TV industry it may be some time before we can enjoy the spectacle of such an explosive mixture of personalities combined in a TV channel again.

-Simon Bond writes from outside of London.