Better late than never. At long last, Channel 5 has started to release
details of its programme plans. Agencies are not best pleased at being
made to wait so long.
Are they happier now? Is the schedule in line with expectations? And
which of the existing channels have most to fear? Alasdair Reid reports
Media launches can expect to attract a lot of goodwill. And when the
start-up in question is the first UK terrestrial television channel to
launch in 15 years, the amount of goodwill is potentially huge -
agencies and advertisers will gleefully grasp hold of any stick with
which they can beat ITV.
But over the past few weeks, Channel 5 has been in danger of throwing
much of it away - and ITV has been taking full advantage. The network is
understandably gearing up to fight a propaganda war and a small faction
within the network has already begun to fight very dirty indeed. Some of
the antics have been almost laughable and easily dismissed.
But agencies haven’t been laughing. They are, to say the least,
disappointed by what they’ve been hearing - or rather, not hearing -
from Channel 5.
Getting information on the channel’s programme and schedule plans has
been as easy as pulling teeth. There are mitigating circumstances here.
After all, the material has to be acquired and programming deals always
take time to finalise. Negotiations have to be kept secret. Agencies say
they understand that, but feel that they should have been kept more
informed about things.
The good news is that the waiting will soon be over. Last week, Nick
Milligan, Channel 5’s sales director, began presenting an almost
complete schedule to agencies. Is the schedule what agencies expected or
hoped for? Does it target the right sort of audiences? Is Channel 5 back
on track? Can it reclaim the goodwill of agencies?
The initial signals are positive. Bill Barker, the broadcast director of
J. Walter Thompson, says that he was pleasantly surprised. ‘Given the
size of its programme budget, we expected it to be packed with re-runs -
a cross between UK Gold and ITV,’ he comments. ‘That doesn’t seem to be
the case at all. It has a good balance between safe formulas and fresh
ideas. There will be a film in the 9 to 11pm slot seven nights a week,
which could be risky but I think they have the quality of material to
get decent ratings there. Other imports from the US, such as Melrose
Place and Beverly Hills 90210, are tried and tested and should do pretty
‘Overall, the schedule will appeal to a mass-market 20-44 age profile
though it will go slightly more upmarket on Sunday early evening when it
has business and financial programming. As for sports, it is hoping to
do for baseball what Channel 4 used to do for American football. One
thing that is missing is comedy - though that again is because they are
taking the safest route. Comedy is very hard to get right.’
The schedule is supposedly designed to take audience from the BBC.
Barker says that the reality is different - he believes that ITV bosses
would be right to see it as an attack on them. Alan James, the broadcast
director of the Network, agrees with that analysis. He points out that
the two BBC networks are not a soft target - they have only lost one
percentage point of share in the past decade. And because the BBC
doesn’t have to take into account the long-term planning considerations
of advertisers and agencies, it is able to schedule tactically and far
more aggressively than ITV.
James is positive about the schedule’s prospects and believes it will go
a long way to counter what he refers to as a ‘dangerous level of
cynicism’ about Channel 5 that has been spreading through the industry.
‘There’s only so long that you can keep a schedule from people but I
think they’ve got a certain amount of respect now that they’ve put some
flesh on the bones,’ he argues. ‘I am quite enthusiastic about what I’ve
seen - and it is targeted at a slightly younger audience than I was
anticipating. It is a bit like Channel 4, with lots of US imports, but
it has more of a satellite channel feel to it.
‘It is quite sensibly avoiding hot spots on the BBC and ITV schedules -
it knows it can’t compete with things like Coronation Street - where it
is putting out things that will get a small but loyal audience.
‘I like the fact that there’s an hour of children’s programmes scheduled
each morning and I think we’ll see a strong performance from movies in
the evening. But that will depend on what ITV does with News at Ten. If
the network is allowed to shift it to 11pm, ITV could be really strong
in that crucial 9 to 11pm slot.’
Andy Zonfrillo, the broadcast director of Leo Burnett, says that Channel
5 is wisely seeking to target audience subgroups that aren’t being
catered for by other stations. ‘That is a benefit to advertisers,’ he
confirms. ‘The schedule has some innovative ideas, such as the soap
aimed at kids at breakfast time and the sports magazine scheduled for
‘The young, mid-market audience it is seeking to target is currently one
of the most expensive in cost-per-thousand terms. That could be a good
move on Channel 5’s part if it wants to get the highest yield it can on
its inventory. But without seeing the finished product, I can’t tell if
the schedule is going to pull in the right audience demographics from an
advertiser’s point of view. We still don’t know enough yet - Channel 5’s
home-produced shows are only just going into production.’
Despite the buyers’ observations, Nick Milligan says that the schedule
has been designed to challenge the BBC and provide an alternative to
‘If we schedule in this way we can expand the commercial cake and the
overall price of television will go down,’ he states. ‘ITV’s approach
towards us would suggest that it fears that if television becomes
cheaper, then it will make less money. Channel 4, Channel 5 and
satellite will be national, younger, more upmarket than ITV and in these
audiences segments, more audience means more money. Our goal for 1997 is
to deliver 10 per cent of impacts for all audiences - except for elderly
viewers because they will be difficult to woo from ITV.
‘It has been suggested that we may be used as a stick to beat ITV with.
While we wouldn’t advocate such a policy, we are only here to be