‘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.