Forum: Can ITV succeed in spoiling Channel 5’s launch? - ITV has been promising some scheduling fireworks to coincide with the Channel 5 launch. Could ITV succeed in spoiling the party and how long should its Channel 5 offensive last? On the other

The classic strategy is, of course, to light a fire. Fires and ratings go hand in hand, especially if there’s some sort of horrible injury - or even a death - involved. And the best place to light a fire is in the saloon bar of a soap opera.

The classic strategy is, of course, to light a fire. Fires and

ratings go hand in hand, especially if there’s some sort of horrible

injury - or even a death - involved. And the best place to light a fire

is in the saloon bar of a soap opera.



Remember Meg Richardson staggering from the smoke at the Crossroads

Motel? Ditto Bet Lynch and the Rovers Return? Come to that, the Queen

Vic has been badly scorched in its time as well.



But the most pertinent lesson of all comes from much further back than

these TV spectaculars, and it involved a barn rather than a bar. More

than 40 years ago, on the night that ITV launched, Grace Archer was

sacrificed on BBC radio in a farmyard conflagration. It was one of the

most mean-spirited but inspired pieces of scheduling in the history of

UK broadcasting.



ITV executives have notoriously short memories, but should they perhaps

take a leaf out of the BBC book of great spoiling tactics? Channel 5

launches (fingers crossed) on Easter Sunday, and senior ITV executives

have been letting it be known that they plan some pretty spectacular

scheduling stunts aimed at the new channel. The ITV campaign is bound to

last at least a week, probably longer. Has ITV’s scheduling boss, Marcus

Plantin, already reached for his box of matches? And what should his

target or targets be? The Woolpack? Sunhill nick?



ITV means business. Its propaganda war has been running at full blast

for several months already and a generic advertising campaign broke this

week. But wouldn’t it be best to ignore the Channel 5 launch

altogether?



After all, most media launches are complete disasters. The real launch

usually happens six months later when all the expensive hirings have

been fired and ambitious ideas jettisoned.



Many observers believe that the ITV strategy will be to continue the

blitz until it has ratings evidence to back up a knocking campaign in

the trade press. Paul Parashar, the head of TV buying at New PHD - which

has been working with Channel 5 - agrees this is a possibility. ’ITV

certainly can’t be seen to be ignoring the launch,’ he argues. ’Whatever

Channel 5 has planned on the programming front, there is bound to be

great interest and excitement at the launch. ITV has to make its

presence felt during that early period of interest. ITV clearly sees 6pm

to 11pm as its domain and, broadly, that’s where most effort will be

concentrated. More specifically, ITV will target the 9pm to 10pm slot

because that will be Channel 5’s movie slot.’



Parashar reckons other channels will enter the fray as well: ’The point

is that this is not like any other launch that we’ve seen. We haven’t

had a major channel launching right into the mainstream in recent

memory.



Channel 5 is staffed by heavyweight operators who not only know the

business but have been involved in launches before. They believe they

can be successful from the start. Other channels will think it vital to

undermine that belief.’



Russell Boyman, the managing partner, broadcast, of Mediapolis, says

Easter Sunday is an unlikely date for the commencement of hostilities.

’From an advertiser point of view, it’s one of the worst days they could

have chosen. No-one will be watching. And you’d have to wonder why ITV

would waste resources taking them on during a dead day.



But I suppose the whole thing is contradictory, with ITV saying that

Channel 5 isn’t worth bothering about, then spending a lot of time and

energy doing exactly that. But I have to say that it’s not the main

game. It shouldn’t be about fighting Channel 5, it should be about

putting its own house in order. If ITV has the resources it should be

using them now, not waiting until Easter.’



Boyman concedes that ITV may win the public relations battle but that

will cut very little ice with agencies, which won’t be bullied into

making snap judgments. Graham Duff, the chief executive of Zenith Media,

agrees.



But he also believes that ITV can’t really win. ’Given that ITV’s public

position is that Channel 5 will be an abject failure from day one,

anything it does will seem like an admission of defeat. But what is the

appropriate brand-leader stance to take? If it ignores it completely

everyone will be talking about arrogant old ITV again. If it has a

disproportionate response, it plays right into Channel 5’s hands. ITV

will be damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. The other feeling I

have is that Channel 5 may have some programming surprises of its own.

It’s by no means a straightforward proposition for ITV,’ he states.



Duff points out that planners and buyers are not going to be swayed by

public squabbling and propaganda campaigns - by either side. ’From our

perspective, we’re interested in who both parties are trying to attract

and how they propose to go about it. We’ll be interested in the numbers

and in exactly who is tuning in. Anything else will probably be wasted

effort on their part.’



The most worrying aspect of all this manoeuvring is that ITV has failed

to act in concert, Paul Taylor, the joint media director of BMP DDB,

argues.



’Granada appears to have taken the rather sanguine view that this will

be a long-term competitor and the strategy should be to ensure that it

doesn’t erode audiences or revenues too much. Carlton, on the other

hand, has been jumping up and down theatrically and trying to imply that

the thing won’t even launch. I’d like to have more faith in the

network’s ability to behave in a mature and co-ordinated fashion - and

to concentrate, long term, on not losing too much audience.



Taylor agrees that ITV propaganda will not be effective. ’Channel 5 will

only reach 60 per cent of the country anyway, so the numbers can be made

to look meaningless. All ITV will do is to look like a far bigger

brother beating up a young sibling and that’s never attractive,’ he

points out.



’I’d hate to see a large chunk of its programming resources disappearing

into one evening. It’s just a single event after all, and ITV has to

concentrate on delivering a strong schedule over the longer term.’



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