Campaign Report on Television: Survival in a multi-channel world - A killer instinct is essential to fend off the competition in the TV jungle. This means big budgets and the best shows, says David Cuff

Is television becoming more like the magazine market? Success for a TV station means a combination of the right image, appealing programmes and appropriate scheduling. The same applies to magazines, where image, content and layout are vital. The forgiving consumer may tolerate a bad image if the other two are in place, but style and scheduling alone will not succeed.

Is television becoming more like the magazine market? Success for a

TV station means a combination of the right image, appealing programmes

and appropriate scheduling. The same applies to magazines, where image,

content and layout are vital. The forgiving consumer may tolerate a bad

image if the other two are in place, but style and scheduling alone will

not succeed.



When it comes to media choice, many consumers are prepared to experiment

- they will give new products a window to prove themselves, but will

drop them fairly swiftly if they don’t meet the required standard. First

impressions count a lot in this context. W. H. Smith customers perusing

the shelves for the magazine that will deliver a satisfying read have a

lot in common with viewers poring over the television listings page.



With the exception of some programmes, most viewers make a decision to

watch TV for a session and then pick out what they are going to watch

during that time. In the multi-channel environment, viewers will have a

hierarchy of channels and genres for the first choice, which will

usually include the offerings of the four big terrestrials, but also

some of their new favourites.



In the TV landscape, as in the print market, there are many new launches

with almost the same number of relaunches and facelifts at any one

time.



Channel 4 recently changed its look before the Channel 5 launch, BBC1

now comes with added balloons and, no doubt, there is much agonising

over the next ITV makeover.



However, the big four terrestrials have some loyalty in the bank and are

never going to completely blow their chances with the viewers unless

they get either their programmes or their scheduling drastically

wrong.



A slow erosion of their overall viewing share is inevitable, but

individual fortunes can vary. For all channels, a tried and tested

approach one year can be a recipe for failure the next. Successful

approaches are inevitably copied and neutralised, and talent is

poached.



The new channels need to constantly refresh their programmes and

schedules in the face of increasing competition in the same genres at

the same time. Multi-channel viewers are more fair-weather friends to

the new channels, which quickly learn when they are losing the affection

of their audience.



For subscription channels that have the hook of two or three must-watch

events (Premiership football, for example), whatever else they put out

is largely irrelevant to the punter as they are going to pay just for

those properties. It is a different story for entertainment

channels.



In the early days of UK multi-channel entertainment, and with TV

nostalgia still in its infancy, UK Gold was the sole provider of

second-hand broadcasts. Now Granada Plus, Carlton Select, Paramount and

Sci-Fi all offer a selection of repeats.



The new BBC deal has not come too soon for UK Gold, now repositioned as

part of UK TV with its offering of quality repeats and the BBC

back-catalogue wide open.



Sky One is slowly repositioning itself as the channel with the best US

product as it snaps up essential viewing for many of the multi-channel

viewers. Witness current Thursday nights from 9pm featuring Seinfeld,

Mad About You and Chicago Hope and compare to next year’s Friends and

ER. However, viewers are very much biased towards domestic productions

and Sky One has moved into this area with young and cheeky home-grown

programmes that are finally giving the channel a personality.



Granada Plus has rapidly changed its proposition and moved away from its

reliance on Coronation Street and other Granada programmes, in a bid to

live up to its name.



Discovery felt the need to extend its broadcast hours to respond to Men

and Motors and now faces fresh challenges from National Geographic and

its partner channels, Animal Plant and UK Horizons. How long before the

Discovery relaunch?



Bravo has rebranded from Weird TV to Wild TV as it chases the lad market

and has reduced its hours to allow Trouble TV to run US teen soaps.

Paramount shifted from a messy block of US programming to a comedy

channel featuring the highest quality UK and US offerings.



VH-1 initially attracted viewers with its 80s playlist, but has recently

added more contemporary music to its offering, as the channel knows all

too well that nostalgia alone isn’t enough to keep the viewers.



Similarly, MTV has revamped its offering in the UK to reflect the faster

moving chart and broader taste of the UK viewers who were switching over

to terrestrial channels for more happening sounds.



Just as much of the magazine market burned out with ’sex specials’, how

long will it be before UK Living will have to find some other hook for

its late-night viewing? Unfortunately, constant change and rejuvenation

of channels is a reflection of their infancy and dearth of any

deep-seated loyalty from the viewer.



Despite the increasing choices for the consumer, old habits die

hard.



In the print market, most impacts are still delivered with the same

mainstream content and genres as before the explosion of choice. In the

US (perhaps the best example of a post-fragmented TV market), impacts

are dominated by mainstream content.



The dominance of certain genres for delivering most impacts is leading

not to more niche channels, but to more opportunities to watch your

favourite type of programmes again and again. The initial impact of more

than 200 digital satellite and cable stations for the TV viewer will not

be in the number of channels, but the increased opportunities to see the

same programmes and films from once or twice a week to once or twice a

day.



There is a clear message for the terrestrials - show the best product

first and don’t stint on the budget. Non-terrestrial channels that

secure the quality first-runs will become far more important and will

earn a place at the top of viewers’ popularity lists. For the new

channels competing for audience share, only a policy of constant

refreshment and improvement will attract loyal viewers.



David Cuff is broadcast director at Initiative Media.



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