MEDIA FORUM: How C5 plans to capitalise on its ratings success - Timing is all in this business. Channel 5 has been enjoying a ratings surge just as the industry heads into the autumn airtime negotiating season and a big marketing push is due soon. Is the

The seemingly inexorable rise of Channel 5 has taken many by surprise.

The seemingly inexorable rise of Channel 5 has taken many by


Over the past month and a half the network has consistently passed the 4

per cent share of total viewing mark and has been peaking at 5.8 per

cent. Its audience has been greater than all of the Sky channels

combined since April and is currently 40 per cent that of Channel 4.

Strangely, perhaps, it has remained remarkably modest about its


That’s about to change. Channel 5 has handed its pounds 10 million ad

account to Walsh Trott Chick Smith (Campaign, last week). Now the agency

is gearing up for a full-scale marketing push this autumn.

Its timing is excellent. Riding high on viewing figures, the network has

sufficient confidence to decide that it will position itself as a

popular entertainment channel - in the same game as ITV and BBC1 - while

remaining more intimate, accessible and original. The good ratings news

is also timely for the ad sales team, which is gearing up for the main

annual negotiating season.

The autumn marketing campaign will be the first under the auspices of

the new marketing director, Jim Hytner. He’s in buoyant mood, joking

that he needs to launch a marketing initiative before his colleagues

monopolise the credit for ratings successes. He adds: ’Our marketing

activity will add real value to Channel 5’s growing reputation. We have

recognised that our loyal viewers already use BBC1, ITV and Channel 5 as

their main entertainment channels and use the other two terrestrial

channels as occasional alternatives.

To them, we offer popular television genres in a fresher, more

personable way. We’ve not capitalised on this positioning. We are about

to - by educating and exciting those who flirt with us on a less regular

basis. As we embark on this more explicit and better targeted

conversation with our viewers, the effect of marketing will start to

kick in.’

Is Channel 5 about to stop getting sand kicked in its face? So soon - 18

months - after its launch too? Well, perhaps. But there are those who

will argue that Channel 5 has been winning a phoney war. None of its

competitors have been trying this summer, post World Cup. They will be

in the autumn - the BBC, Channel 4 and especially ITV all have much

riding on their performance between now and Christmas. Channel 5 could

be squeezed.

Channel 5 sources would counter that by pointing to the fact that during

the World Cup, when it was expected to haemorrhage audiences to ITV and

BBC1, it actually stole a couple of points. And, looking at longer-term

trends, its au- dience has continued to rise consistently since


Sure, it has had some spectacular blips caused by spectacular

programming coups, such as capturing coverage of key international

football matches.

But having encouraged widespread trial with these stunts, it has

retained converts.

Is Channel 5 right to be confident? Or is this all built on shaky


Russell Boyman, managing partner of Mediapolis, believes that a lot of

people who tried the station (like the many thousands of women who tuned

in during the World Cup) will keep coming back.

’The marketing campaign should obviously encourage more trialling,’ he

argues. ’At the moment, Channel 5 is very like ITV in many respects -

ITV viewers will certainly feel very comfortable there. It has done

pretty well so far in attracting audiences from the BBC - particularly

BBC1 - but perhaps it can do even more. It would be good to see it

increasing total commercial audiences. We would also like to see more

meat in the sandwich. Channel 5 does pretty well in some high-profile

strands, now we’d like to see more consistency in day-to-day


The most widespread concern is about Channel 5’s ability to maintain a

distinctive positioning. Andy Roberts, buying director of Motive

Communications, believes it requires careful consideration. ’Channel 5

has developed an attractive audience - young and male - that sets it

apart from other terrestrial networks, but it is right to be

reconsidering its positioning and its programme strategy. There’s too

much reliance on films and football - which doesn’t give a deep channel

identity. That type of programming can easily win audiences but can

easily lose them too.’

He maintains that, at present, you would struggle to define the

archetypal Channel 5 programme. ’The Jack Docherty Show was along the

right lines, but it just wasn’t a success. But when you do get it right,

and there are one or two programmes that people can relate to, it can

drive a channel. As for ratings, it’s a good tactic to have a go in

August but they will find it difficult when they are up against ITV’s

best product in the autumn.’

Make the most of it while you can, seems to be the advice of many


Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, states: ’Its themed

nights and weekends in particular have been performing very well against

terrestrial competitors. In some respects its football - England and

UEFA Cup games - is of as high a quality as anything on Sky. Everything

is heading in the right direction and that will stand it in good stead

in the negotiating season.

’ITV finds it difficult to target niche audiences and the more

successful they are, the more mainstream they have to be. Lots of

advertisers like the Channel 5 profile. And the thing is that it is not

overtraded, so the more audience it delivers, the more money it can


Tom George, Zenith Media’s head of broadcast, looks forward to the


He says: ’The challenge for Nick Milligan (sales director of Channel 5)

and his sales team will be to convince agencies that the growth in

viewing is going to continue and that this should be taken into

consideration when budgets are apportioned. The realities of negotiation

should not be underestimated, though. In order for most agencies to

increase investment, they have to free up share points from channels

that are losing audience - and this is a difficult proposition. I

suspect that this will be as big a determinant of Channel 5’s success in

attracting ad revenue as its ability to continue to grow its audience.’

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