CAMPAIGN MEDIA AWARDS 1998: Campaign Gold Award - Media Achiever of the Year - David Elstein

In the world of television, few people are as vocal, opinionated and experienced as David Elstein. But then few TV executives can lay claim to possessing two brains and a reputation as the Einstein of broadcasting.

In the world of television, few people are as vocal, opinionated

and experienced as David Elstein. But then few TV executives can lay

claim to possessing two brains and a reputation as the Einstein of


It’s a reputation that Elstein has shouldered manfully through his

34-year career in television, from public service broadcasting as the

BBC’s youngest ever graduate trainee through to the aggressive realities

of commercial TV.

And it’s one he hasn’t let slip in his two years as chief executive of

Channel 5, which burst on to UK screens on 30 March, 1997 amid industry

predictions of doom, viewer and advertiser apathy and the inevitable

early relaunch. That Channel 5 managed to thumb its nose at the critics,

drive audience share and advertising revenue to more than respectable

levels and buck the tradition that every media launch should fail before

it succeeds, owes much to Elstein’s steady hand at the helm of the


Elstein began his career at the BBC back in 1964, aged 20, after

graduating from Cambridge with a double first. He clocked up experience

on Panorama, the Money Programme, Cause for Concern and 24 Hours before

joining Thames Television in 1968 as a director on This Week and the

regional news programme, Today. A six-month stint at LWT in the early

70s saw Elstein produce the first series of Weekend World under the

editorship of one John Birt, the man he is now being tipped by some

pundits to succeed as the director general of the BBC.

By 1978 he was executive producer of documentaries at Thames but went

independent with his own production company in 1982 to make programmes

for the fledgling Channel 4. Thames lured him back in 1986 as director

of programmes, a post he held until he jumped into the Murdoch lair as

head of programming at BSkyB in 1993. Working at Sky had a profound

effect on Elstein, introducing him to the driven competitiveness of the

multi-channel TV arena and enabling him to thrust himself into the

headlines in defence of the Murdochian dream of a multi-channel


As well as being a defender of choice, Elstein has also made a name for

himself as scourge of the BBC - he recently branded the corporation as a

’defensive monolith’ and called for the abolition of the licence


No surprise, then, that this eloquent and charmingly argumentative

individual has performed brilliantly as the figurehead of the latest

entrant into the terrestrial TV market.

As Channel 5’s white knight, Elstein fought the company’s corner to win

better distribution from the Independent Television Commission and

ensured a successful retuning of the nation’s video recorders - a task

many predicted would see the downfall of the station before it had even

made it on to our screens.

Eighteen months in, and the Channel 5 product is still not perfect, of

course, but for all the things that went right that could so easily have

gone wrong, and for shaking up the TV market to provide advertisers with

a vibrant new alternative, Elstein is a worthy recipient of Campaign’s

inaugural Media Achiever of the Year award.


1997: Chairman, British Screen Advisory Council

1996: Chief executive, Channel 5/chairman, National Film and Television


1993: Head of programming, BSkyB

1986: Director of programmes, Thames Television

1982: Sets up Brook Productions to make programmes for Channel 4

1978: Executive producer of documentaries, Thames Television

Early 70s: Producer of Weekend World, LWT

1968: Director on This Week and Today, Thames Television

1964: Graduate trainee, BBC.


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