Media: All about - Channel 5 sales

Is Nick Bampton's return a good move for him and C5?

Nick Bampton's return to the airtime sales fold will disappoint those who believed he was about to work a fundamental transformation on the media market's rules of engagement. After all, his start-up media brokerage company, The Third Way, was hailed as revolutionary when it launched in April.

His appointment last week as Channel 5's sales boss will also excite no little interest from the commentators who live and die by homespun proverbs - the sorts of people who maintain, for instance, that you should "never go back".

But then Bampton is only going back to Channel 5 in the most literal of senses. In career terms, this is, arguably, the biggest leap forward he has ever achieved. When he was last at Channel 5, he inhabited a rather lowly status in the pecking order, reporting to a hierarchy that included variously, between 1996 and 2001, the likes of Nick Milligan, Paul Curtis, Mark White and Kelly Williams.

And, of course, it's the last name on this list that he replaces. It had been thought that, following Richard Desmond's acquisition of the station in July, Williams was happy with the new regime - and that the new regime was happy with him.

After all, the commercial side of the operation had been comparatively unaffected by early moves to restructure the company. There had been all sorts of reassurances from Desmond and his lieutenant, Northern & Shell's managing director, Stan Myerson, that they recognised the excellent value for money the channel's sales team was already delivering.

Williams effectively became the sole sales director in November 2008, when his long-term boss, White, moved up from executive director of sales to become Five's managing director. White and Williams had the telepathic understanding of long-term colleagues - and Williams thus enjoyed a substantial degree of autonomy.

That was never likely to be a prospect under Myerson, to whom Williams was reporting. White departed in August, when it became clear that the channel was to be run as a subsidiary of Northern & Shell. It was also confirmed that there would be a leveraged sell across all the group's assets, which meant that aspects of Channel 5's sales policy (and even some implementation issues) had been taken out of Williams' hands.

Thus Bampton's opportunity - and this turn of events has to be seen as a welcome reprieve for him. The Third Way, though hailed as an inspired creation in some quarters, was greeted by extreme scepticism in others. It was, its critics said, neither fish nor fowl: a sales house without any inventory; a media specialist without any clients.

Its only client of any note is, interestingly enough, Channel 5, which hired it to identify new campaign ideas around its online properties. Bampton was, one might speculate, eminently "available". And he ticks all the right boxes where Channel 5 is concerned.

Bampton made his reputation at Viacom Brand Solutions after acceding to the top job there in 2004. At VBS, he always punched well above his weight - both individually and on behalf of the inventory in his portfolio. Channel 5 needs (nay, expects) the same as it enters a tricky year-end negotiation season.

1. This appointment is the latest round in a game of TV sales musical chairs that began last year when Viacom decided to award the sales contract on its channels to Sky Media. VBS therefore lost its reason for existing and closed in December 2009. Consolidation in the TV airtime sales market continued in July, with the announcement that Virgin Media's sales house, ids, was to close. Sales on the UKTV channels ended up at Channel 4, while the VMtv channels went to Sky Media.

2. Thus, Bampton returns to the market in a somewhat familiar position - the head of one of the smallest airtime sales outlets in town. Channel 5's sales operation is fourth behind, in decreasing order of market share, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky Media.

3. Some analysts believe, however, that, of all the players in the TV market, Channel 5 has the most interesting story to tell as the annual negotiation season hots up. Under the previous owner, RTL, it arguably had an insipid corporate culture and a lacklustre programming strategy. Desmond will undoubtedly seek to make the channel's content more distinctive. The new owner may also be in a position to offer attractive multi-platform deals across TV, the Express newspaper titles and the likes of OK! magazine.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

CHANNEL 5

- Quite simply, continuity. As Paul Rowlinson, the head of exchange at Mindshare, puts it: "It's a blow for any organisation when you lose someone of the quality of a Kelly Williams. But if ever there was a perfect replacement, it would be Nick Bampton. Both Williams and Bampton are top-quality operators. They both worked together at Channel 5 before - and both are thoughtful and progressive in their outlook. It's a good sales operation - and there's not been a mass exodus (since the Northern & Shell takeover). They've kept most of the important people."

AIRTIME MARKET

- Interestingly, few buyers believe that a Northern & Shell cross-media sell will be much of a factor in the short term. They do, however, believe that, as Bampton takes over (he will work in tandem with Williams for a brief handover period), he can succeed in stopping Channel 5 from being the market's whipping boy.

- They believe he is well-placed to exploit what is perceived to be a growing weakness in Channel 4's position. Trading at Channel 4 was previously headed by Matt Shreeve but he has departed and has been replaced by the veteran negotiator Mick Perry.

- As one trader puts it: "If the market sees a potential weakness, it tries to exploit that weakness. In the past, Channel 4 has been successful at keeping its relationships on an even keel and maintaining continuity from year to year. Now, people see an opportunity to establish new terms of engagement."

MEDIA TRADING REVOLUTION

- Postponed due to lack of interest.

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