MEDIA FORUM: Can Rise bring a shine to C4's early-morning slot? - Will Rise be the saviour of C4's morning show, taking it out of the doldrums? Or is breakfast a slot whose time has gone? Alasdair Reid asks

When Channel 4 announced back in the mists of time (1992) that a certain Chris Evans was to front its new breakfast offering, the GMTV boardroom was absolutely ecstatic. "Chris who?

they mocked. While Evans' fall from grace shows how quickly it takes to go from "Chris who?

to "Whatever happened to?", at the time, GMTV believed there was little to worry about.

But, of course, the red hair and the heavy-framed glasses helped to reinvent breakfast television. Before Evans, the format had not yet escaped the shadow of its early days, when it was ponderous and serious, even severe.

It had agendas and duties. It had David Frost and Angela Rippon and Anna Ford being all censorious and scolding. It was, in effect, Radio 4's Today programme in colour. And pretty poor colour at that.

The Big Breakfast's schtick was to turn the colour knob up full. True, Eamonn Holmes and Lorraine Kelly had already been coupled together on the GMTV sofa for several weeks when it launched, but the Evans experience was the really big break with the past.

This was all about targeting kids and mums and giving them a bit of a laugh by winding them up. It worked for a while - at its peak, The Big Breakfast attracted audiences upwards of 1.5 million.

Recently, though, this had dropped to 200,000, which represented less than 17 per cent of the total breakfast TV audience. It had to go. Its replacement, which is expected to launch on 29 April, will be called Rise and will be a tabloid TV show, modelled on the red tops. How well should we expect it to do? Will the competition respond? And exactly how attractive is breakfast TV as an advertising medium these days?

Andy Barnes, the commercial director of Channel 4, says that Rise's mission is straightforward: to do better than the latter-day Big Breakfast.

But he is taking nothing for granted: "It's getting more difficult to make your mark,

he says. "When The Big Breakfast launched, there was a worthy news programme on BBC1, a happy, smiley sofa on GMTV and The Open University on BBC2. Now there is a plethora of satellite channels and the BBC is taking this whole area a lot more seriously. It's far more difficult to achieve cut-through."

Barnes can reveal that the audience is expected to be 16- to 34-year-olds with an emphasis on the 20- to 24-year-olds age group rather than the 16- to 20-year-olds. But he certainly does not expect it to make the impact that The Big Breakfast originally did. He expects to see audiences of 300,000 to 400,000 rising within the first 12 months to 500,000. "That would be a huge percentage increase on what The Big Breakfast has been delivering,

he points out.

Will that be of interest to advertisers? Perhaps, the UK advertising director of GlaxoSmithKline, John Blakemore, says. But breakfast has gone off the boil. He says it is instructive that breakfast TV in general is infrequently front of mind, in the main because it is rarely marketed with any great urgency.

He says: "No, I don't expect much to change in the breakfast TV environment. It's essentially middle-of-the-road viewing for mums getting the brood off to school. I'm sure there's a market for a tabloid TV format like Rise but it's not something that has particularly caught our attention."

The joint managing director of BJK&E, James Jennings, agrees: "The most interesting thing about this whole launch is how low key it is. There hasn't been huge amounts of hype and I think that might be very wise on Channel 4's part because it is probably aware of the dangers of over-egging something like this. It's also wise in view of the sad demise of The Big Breakfast, especially the fate of the show right at the very end. I think people started to realise that its success was less to do with the format than the fact that they were exceptionally lucky in finding two presenters - first Evans and then Johnny Vaughan - who were as good as they were. So there will be lots of questions hanging over the new show - especially as it launches only a few weeks before the World Cup."

Live matches from Korea and Japan will be broadcast early in the morning, and these will have a huge impact on the potential for breakfast TV audiences.

So are the competitors worried? Not hugely, Clive Crouch, the sales and marketing director of GMTV, says: "As far as we are concerned, we saw The Big Breakfast off eight years ago - contrary to myth. In 1994, there was only one quarter hour on one day in which they actually beat us (in terms of audience).

"When The Big Breakfast first launched, it created a lot of excitement but I think it's clear that it brought new people to breakfast TV and it largely took them from radio. After the Big Breakfast fell away in 1994, the total audience (for early morning TV) went back to where it had been before. And we are in a very different market these days. It will be difficult for anyone to create the level of excitement that Chris and Gaby Roslyn did initially."

GMTV, Crouch points out, is the only breakfast specialist in the UK - and, come to that, the world. "Other people sell it merely as a daypart. We are the only people selling it in its own right. We market its advantages, we have research, we know about the effectiveness of breakfast TV on brand recall. We know about breakfast TV."

But what about other media? Radio, for instance, has always owned breakfast time, hasn't it? Kathryn Jacob, the commercial director of Virgin Radio, says: "I think most advertisers will wait to see what the programme is actually like. They always do. The thing that radio has in its favour is that it's a habitual medium. Some people know it's time to get up when they hear a certain thing like a traffic report that's on at the same time every morning. And the radio is something you can have with you while you're getting up and going to the shower or doing whatever. It takes a lot to make people change their habits."

But weren't the commercial breakfast shows worried when The Big Breakfast burst onto the scene? And might they be worried again? Can television hope to mount an assault on the pre-eminence of radio as an early morning medium?

"I think Channel 4's aim will be all about getting back some of the people who went to other TV stations. The Rise audience will be basically people who were already predisposed towards watching TV in the morning,

Jacob concludes.

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