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January 25, 2007

Harry Phibbs asks, does 18 Doughty Street represent the future of television?

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Harry Phibbs predicts that conservative TV station 18 Doughty Street may represent the future of television.

The launch of a new TV station used to be a big deal. I remember when Channel 4 was launched everyone was very excited. Then disappointed because here was nothing worth watching because it was too obscurely high brow. Now there is nothing worth watching because it is too trashily low brow.

These days TV stations are ten a penny - endless cable and satellite packages make it impossible for anyone to list all the stations available somewhere or other in the United Kingdom. This latest recruit is even more obscure as it is a TV station not available on TV. You can only get it via the internet. Called 18 Doughty Street it has been rather simplistically dubbed Tory TV. That doesn't really give the proper feel for its underground, guerrilla feel. There must be a similar camaraderie at its Bloomsbury studio as there used to be on high seas where the pirate radio station Radio Caroline was broadcast.

Doughty Street is familiar stamping ground for Conservatives incidentally. I used to visit the late and great Michael Ivens there when he was banging the drum for free enterprise with his organisation Aims of Industry. Ivens offered me kindness and encouragement at a time the rest of humanity regarded me as a disgusting Tory teenager.

Then there is The Spectator across the road, famed for its well attended summer parties, although it is about to move. Now this wide and imposing but quiet Bloomsbury street has spawned anther branch of the Conservative revolution. True they make no claim to a mass viewing audience - modestly guessing they have perhaps a 1,000 viewers at any given time. But we have to start somewhere. Michael Grade was dismissive of Sky TV when it started declaring that more people had seen the Loch Ness Monster.

The channel is bank rolled by Stephan Shakespeare who made a fortune out of establishing the polling firm YouGov whose polling has proved astonishingly accurate despite being via the internet. Shakespeare, in an interview for the New Culture Forum, says:

It's a small audience - very much the sort of political media world - but we're not going to push it, or market it until we are ready, until we've found our feet, so that's exactly what we would expect, and what we would have assumed.
They have made a conscious decision to go public with the station as a work in progress. Shakespeare adds:
We are treating this as a sort of Beta phase, and then on the 8th March we are going to be much clearer about what the whole thing looks like, and how it functions, and at that point, we can push it out and go for a wider audience.
One irony was that among the coverage 18 Doughty Street launch was given was a hostile item on Channel 4. Krishnan Guru-Murphy declared:
They won't have any obligation to be impartial or accurate.
This is astonishing audacity. Does anyone really imagine Jon Snow votes Tory. His allegiances are clearly on the Left and whenever it is suggested he should make an effort to broadcast impartially Guru-Murphy scorns the notion. Yet with the launch of an openly Tory channel suddenly Guru-Murphy takes the importance of such a requirement very seriously. Tim Montgomerie of 18 Doughty Street told Guru-Murphy:
We feel conventional television is not as impartial as it could be. One of the things we are going to do is not interrupt people quite so much. There is going to be a clear right wing perspective but were also going to have alternative viewpoints. I'm going to be upfront about what my biases are.
18 Doughty Street only broadcasts four hours a night from Monday to Friday. One recent evenings viewing included an interview with the former Tory MP Sir Teddy Taylor who was certainly interrupted very little by the presenter Iain Dale. This was the right decision of Dale to make as Taylor was being entirely candid and coming up with some fascinating stuff. Later in the programme there was an interview with the Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts where his policies were challenged from the right in a considered and detailed way that would have been inconceivable on a conventional TV interview.

I doubt that 18 Doughty Street will attract a large enough audience to directly offset the left wing influence of the main TV channels. But it does represent a further example of how the internet is decentralising power. Its founders have form on this. Iain Dale managed to open up political book publishing with the launch of Politico's often publishing interesting but niche material that the big publishing firms couldn't be bothered with. Tim Montgomerie has strengthened the Conservative Party but weakened Conservative Campaign Headquarters by the launch of his Conservative Home website.

Politics is being less deferential, more fragmented. Those who choose to be can be better informed. The TV channel is in keeping with the spirit of our times.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.


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Comments

Good piece Harry.

Only thing I can pick up on is that 18DS has recently started doing 5 hours a night (7-12) rather than 4.

The new website
http://www.18doughtystreet.com

.. and weekly campaign videos are also worth noting
http://www.18doughtystreet.com/campaigns_hq

Posted by: Samuel Coates at January 25, 2007 01:01 PM
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I think the Guru in question is a Murthy, not a Murphy.

Posted by: SJ Horan at January 25, 2007 03:16 PM
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It's like the House of Lords was supposed to be: if you're minded to admire it, watch it, and you'll soon be cured of that notion. It's boring, and amateur, and pointless. Literally - what is the point of it? If it bears any connection to anything accross the Atlantic, it's like those 'colleges' evangelical Christians set up because Columbia, for example, is in the grip of pinkoes. End result: Columbia stays the tony outfit, laden with prestige, money and influence. Hogwash college, Utah, meanwhile, chaperones its students and remains a painful irrelevance. This viewer predicts two things: it shuts down this year, and, Stefan Shakespeare recycles a lot of his youGov profits back to where they came from . . . . .

Posted by: Bill the viewer at January 25, 2007 10:47 PM
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Good article which makes some very relevant points.

Disturbed by the unswathing trust in You Gov polls though - one reasonably accurate election prediction does not make a research business. Note the recent problems with their research methodology in Scotland, reported in 'The Herald', which caused The Telegraph to demand a public apology, and the BPI fiasco where the research - because of its obviously leading questions (see comments on www.theregister.co.uk) and huge margin of error from the results of a direct comparable independent survey, appeared to contribute to their very public loss when they were seeking to extend artist royalties beyond 50 years.

It would not be the online element I would question - though I was a little shocked by their brand Index survey reporting a 100% of people saying that Microsoft was the UK's biggest and most trusted brand and failing to attribute this too it being an online survey- but the particular application of the methodology they use.

You Gov does too many frivolous PR stories and I must admitt would rather trust MORI, TNS, ICM and perhaps even Experian's Canvasse Opinion more when it comes to the important decisions.

Posted by: James Alexander at January 26, 2007 02:39 PM
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18 Doughty Street is hosted on the Global Digital Broadcast network and I would like to point out that GDB's IPTV channels are NOT restricted to computer viewing and ARE, in actual fact, able to be viewed on television sets via the GDB platform and GDB AVEC set-top box. For further information, please visit GDB's website at http://www.gdbtv.com

Posted by: Jules J Foreman at March 2, 2007 01:58 PM
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