Media: Double Standards - 'Even great shows need to air at the right time'

Scheduling controllers explain why it's all about timing and shrug off the threat of personal video recorders.

JULIE OLDROYD - HEAD OF SCHEDULING, CHANNEL 4

- How much difference does good scheduling make to the success or failure of a programme?

Forty-seven per cent. Seriously, this is so difficult to quantify because so many factors are involved. We'd like to think we've helped our programmes stand out by creating a sense of expectation on certain days and in certain slots (such as the 10pm drama hour).

- How much say do your channel's top stars have as to when their shows are aired?

If ever there is an issue, there is nothing that our talent maestro and director of TV, Kevin Lygo, can't handle - but ultimately, they trust us.

- What was your biggest scheduling success last year?

For the opening night of Lost, we sandwiched double episodes between two half-hours of Big Brother. Six-and-a-half million people watched, making it one of our highest-rating programmes of the year.

- Is there anything you can do with a bad show to make it a success?

You can lead a horse to water but you can't always make it drink (or come back).

- If a programme flops, who takes responsibility?

It's always the schedulers' fault - always!

- What's the biggest risk you've ever taken that has paid off?

Moving Big Brother in series one from 11pm to 10pm mid-run was a big gamble but helped to establish it much sooner as a compelling, must-see programme for a much wider audience.

- How closely do you collaborate with the advertising and commercial teams?

We listen and share knowledge but they sell advertising, and do it brilliantly, and we don't do a bad job either. Hopefully, last year and so far this year, our performance and programme range speaks for itself.

- How much input do advertisers on your channel have on the scheduling of programmes?

None in peaktime. Obviously ,where there are ad-funded projects, in T4 or late-night, there is a discussion but, ultimately, we decide.

- Has the emergence of personal video recorders affected your role?

What's a personal video recorder?

- Do you receive many complaints from viewers about scheduling ?

People who hate cricket or racing, sci-fi viewers - you name it, we get them. If we agree, we listen; if not, we don't.

- What's the most frustrating part of your job?

Being labelled as someone who is only interested in ratings.

- Which TV shows can you not stand to miss?

Shameless, Desperate Housewives, and I can't wait for the return of Green Wing. I'm also a late adopter of 24 - that's one programme I wish we had.

- How did you come to work in television?

Didn't want to be an accountant.

- How do you like to unwind after a hard day at the office?

Watching DVDs of our programmes from the US with a bottle of wine.

SUSANNA DINNAGE - HEAD OF SCHEDULING, FIVE

- How much difference does good scheduling make to the success or failure of a programme?

I'd say it makes a huge difference. Even a fantastic programme needs to be scheduled at the right time, when viewers are available to view it and in the right mood for it.

- How much say do your channel's top stars have as to when their shows are aired?

We talk a lot. Controllers, press, marketing, sales and viewers all have a point of view. But the decision is down to me and the director of programmes, Dan Chambers.

- What was your biggest scheduling success last year?

Introducing House into the schedule at 10pm on Thursdays, head to head with Big Brother. It built to two million viewers during its launch show and those viewers have never gone away.

- Is there anything you can do with a bad show to make it a success?

To an extent. You can hammock it between two stronger shows and you can promote it, although this is probably not a good use of airtime. But viewers can rarely be fooled.

- If a programme flops, who takes responsibility?

The press office, of course!

- What's the biggest risk you've ever taken that has paid off?

Dropping our Thursday-night double movie in favour of features and drama. Revenues increased because the sales department was able to increase minutage by a third - we are permitted fewer ads around movies.

- How closely do you collaborate with the advertising and commercial teams?

We talk a lot and they are the best sales team I've ever worked with. They understand the challenges facing the schedule but fight their corner hard nonetheless.

- How much input do advertisers on your channel have on the scheduling of programmes?

None directly, but their ideas and demands are keenly represented by our sales team, I can assure you.

- Has the emergence of personal video recorders affected your role?

People have been able to tape programmes for years and the arrival of personal video recorders has yet to affect my role. However, we are learning a thing or two about how viewers choose to watch TV. "Stacking" is a common habit. We have always stacked CSI very successfully and may consider it with other shows soon. We watch and learn.

- Do you receive many complaints from viewers about scheduling ?

Very few. I'm always delighted if someone minds enough to ring or write in to complain about the scheduling of a programme - it's a good sign!

- What's the most frustrating part of your job?

Lack of time. It's a central role and so many people need information and decisions from you all the time. I'd like more thinking time.

- Which TV shows can you not stand to miss?

I've watched Coronation Street since I was 12 (how many hours of my life is that lost to Weatherfield?). I love Extraordinary People and Selling Yourself.

- How did you come to work in television?

I joined MTV as a researcher. At that time, they would only hire you if you had lived in at least two European countries, so at last I could point out to my parents how valuable my French degree was.

- How do you like to unwind after a hard day at the office?

Watching TV (sadly).