MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Channel 5 must be distinguishable to appeal to viewers

‘Blimey,’ I thought on the news (Campaign, last week) that Channel 5 had a media launch budget of around pounds 10 million. ‘That’s a lot of money.’ And indeed it is, given that ITV’s media budget is only pounds 7 million and Channel 4’s just under pounds 3 million. On second thoughts, however, it isn’t, even in the hands of a skilled marketing practitioner like David Brook and a well-muscled media buyer like TMD.

‘Blimey,’ I thought on the news (Campaign, last week) that Channel 5 had

a media launch budget of around pounds 10 million. ‘That’s a lot of

money.’ And indeed it is, given that ITV’s media budget is only pounds 7

million and Channel 4’s just under pounds 3 million. On second thoughts,

however, it isn’t, even in the hands of a skilled marketing practitioner

like David Brook and a well-muscled media buyer like TMD.



We’ll put that to one side for the moment, though, in order to ponder

how Channel 5 could make that money go further. The obvious answer is to

make itself into a brand, by which I mean a media property with a

clearly distinguishable set of characteristics that viewers could

recognise at a glance. ‘Oh yes,’ they’d say, on seeing that such-and-

such a programme was on, ‘we’re obviously tuned into Channel 5.’ Of

course, some programmes are brands already, but increasingly in this age

of satellite and digital proliferation it is the channels themselves

that will have to turn themselves into brands.



Channel 5 at least has the chance to start afresh. And, if you take a

look at the schedules of the existing terrestrial channels, it might not

be that difficult. Strip out certain bankers, like the soaps and the

news, and I bet that the general public couldn’t distinguish between one

channel’s schedule and another’s. For example, all the terrestrials have

their hospital and emergency service dramas - but which is which? Even

Channel 4, I see, has succumbed this week with Rescue, which the Radio

Times describes as ‘programmes charting the history of Britain’s

emergency services’. Sounds familiar?



Nor, in this age of presenter-as-tart, can you identify channels by

their stars. There was a time when, if it was Clive James it was BBC2,

and if it was Clive Anderson then you were watching Channel 4. Now,

they’re both all over the place. Still, let’s be thankful for small

mercies: only Carlton sees fit to employ Alastair Stewart.



But it’s not as if it’s impossible to create a distinctive channel. When

it started, Channel 4’s style and content was very much its own. But of

the current selection, only Sky Sports gives you that instant

recognition factor and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Discovery and some

of the other themed channels. Other media - certain newspapers and radio

stations and many magazines - manage this, so why not a TV station?



Perversely, however, what everyone thinks is Channel 5’s Achilles’ heel

- retuning - may turn out to be an asset. For the nature of the retuning

exercise means Channel 5 has to present its human face to individual

households - a direct marketing opportunity, if you like, to leave an

impression on potential viewers and to leave them with a wealth of

information about what the new channel will be like.



That, if nothing else, will be totally different from any other channel

- which is exactly what Channel 5 will have to be if it is to survive.



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