MEDIA: FORUM; Is Channel 5’s schedule what agencies wanted?

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.

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

well.



‘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

Saturday mornings.



‘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

commercial channels.



‘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

helpful.’



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