Five looks to build on its purple patch

Five is relaunching spin-off channel Five Life less than 18 months after launch. With other changes for its channels in the pipeline, what do advertisers make of its proposals? Lucy Rouse reports.

Five's upcoming relaunch of digital channel Five Life as Fiver is just the first stage in a gradual "refreshing" of the broadcaster's portfolio of channels. Other initiatives include pepping up the on-air look of Five and Five US, and the launch of an improved video-on-demand offering.

But what do agencies make of the changes? And will the promised programme of improvements boost Five's performance and boost the channel's identity in the crowded multichannel TV marketplace?

Michael Beecroft, group account director of the broadcast division at Mediaedge:cia, admits to being "underwhelmed" by the name Fiver: "Five Life was a clear proposition. Fiver sounds like it's trying to copy UK TV channel Dave and it doesn't sound like a clear directional flag."

But Five is going through something of a purple patch at the moment, with seven successive weeks of audience growth under its belt thanks to the combined effect of Natasha Kaplinsky presenting its 5pm and 7pm news shows and the debut of Australian soap Neighbours, which Five acquired last year from under the noses of the BBC. After Neighbours had been on air for a full month, Five's overall viewing share had climbed to 6% from 5.4% a year earlier. While that may at first glance appear a modest rise, that extra share equates to millions more commercial impacts.

Greater heights

Seeking to cement this recent growth, Five has just found a new director of programmes, Ben Gale, to replace Jay Hunt, who was poached back by the BBC shortly after joining Five from the corporation last year.

Gale, who is BBC commissioning editor for features and formats overseeing shows such as Crimewatch and Nigella Express, will join within months and is expected to "take the channel to even greater heights", according to Five's managing director of content Lisa Opie.

Hannah Barnes, director of programmes for Fiver and Five US, will work closely with Gale as she currently does with Hunt and Opie to create complementary schedules for the broadcaster's three channels. "It's very joined up," she says.

Barnes explains that the rebranding of Fiver builds on changes that have been happening to the schedule over the past six months. Five's Fifth Gear, The Gadget Show and Extraordinary People documentaries have aired on Five Life since September and some of the films on Friday nights have skewed towards male viewers. "Commissions such as Extraordinary People work in multichannel as well as on Five," she says.

As a result, audiences for Five Life were 50% higher in January versus the same month a year earlier. As viewing has increased, so have advertising revenues, up by 56% across the Five digital channels in the first quarter of this year, according to Five sales director Kelly Williams.

Barnes adds: "If we kept Five Life female-skewed it would have been a niche channel, but we want it to grow. Five is famous for having a lot of great-male skewing content and I wanted Fiver to have access to that, so it made sense to broaden the target audience. We're being more upfront about wanting men to come to the channel and we felt the name Life could be a deterrent to men."

Barnes clearly feels Fiver will be more commercially successful as a general entertainment channel than a clear-cut, albeit potentially niche, channel such as Five Life. The key, she says, is that Fiver will have a younger audience than Five Life had. It already attracts a younger audience to Neighbours than the main Five channel does.

MEC's Beecroft supports the desire to attract a more unisex audience than the female-skewing Five Life, but he thinks Fiver might be a weak brand: "It's going to be more diluted, less focused and in an environment where there are some very big players and a lot of average channels, which makes it harder to stand out."

Freeview benefits

Andy Zonfrillo, broadcast director of MindShare, says the benefits of turning Five Life into a general entertainment channel could be seen in Freeview homes where the number of channels on offer is more limited than in homes with Sky or cable TV. "It can be hard for niche channels to stand out in the satellite arena, but it's very different in Freeview homes. Dave has done incredibly well with a younger, general entertainment channel with high-profile product," he says.

As for Five US, Barnes says she will merely "enhance" the clarity of what it already is, Five's US cousin. She says it's "highly unlikely" the Five US name will change. Under Ben Gale, the main Five channel - with its schedule already boosted by Neighbours, Kaplinsky and new series of CSI, House and Grey's Anatomy - will also get a fresh on-air look this summer.

Cumulatively, the changes should help Five increase its overall share of TV ad spend again this year. Revenue was up by some 8% last year, Williams says, to 9.3% of the market. As the rest of the "refresh initiative" rolls out, he hopes Five will take nearer 9.7% of all TV revenue in 2008, providing a big shot in the arm to owner RTL Group.

CHANNEL HIGHLIGHTS

FIVE LIFE

- Home And Away

- US import, The Ellen DeGeneres Show

- Australian drama Love My Way, Footballers' Wives and Bad Girls

- Milkshake!, children's TV strand

FIVER

- Celebrity Rehab acquired from US channel VH1

- Five-part series Glamour's Best Dressed List

- Ten-part travel adventure series Madventures

- The Gadget Show and Sex and the City

- US drama Dirt with Courtney Cox from Five US.

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