Media Forum: Has teatime TV become sexy?

Should broadcasters ape Channel 4 and invest more in teatime, Alasdair Reid asks.

There's always been something nightmarish about the thick end of daytime TV. This is a late afternoon world defined by Newsround and Neighbours, The Weakest Link, Ready Steady Cook and Home and Away. And that's before we even consider the phenomenon that is the Channel 4 schedule.

When Richard and Judy are on holiday, we start at 3.30pm with Countdown, then there's Deal or No Deal, fronted by Noel Edmonds, and climax with the new Paul O'Grady Show.

Surely all watched mainly by the old, infirm and unavoidably housebound and backed with no great enthusiasm by direct response advertisers. No longer, at least where Channel 4 is concerned. Its expensive hiring of O'Grady was arguably the main catalyst here. He jumped ship from ITV in January and the Channel 4 version of his show has dominated its slot since its launch last month.

Last week, it was Edmonds' turn to bask in glory. His show has already acquired something more than cult status and now it has a high-profile sponsor, with BT paying up to £5 million for a one-year deal covering idents, credits and break bumpers.

Can it really be true? Is teatime TV really sexy these days? No reason why it can't be, Andy Bolden, the UK media director of GlaxoSmithKline, says. He argues a step change is possible because there's a greater understanding of the true value of the audience available to view at this point in the day.

Before, the analysis progressed little further than age and social status.

He adds: "It comes as no surprise that people are re-evaluating this part of the schedule. There are new ways of looking at all daytime segments in terms of audience analysis. It's about going beyond thinking of audience in the conventional ratings sense and interrogating it in a more thorough manner."

Some observers, however, maintain that the environment remains something of a lost world. What Channel 4 has been doing is laudable, they concede - its quality programming delivers a quality audience and a quality advertising environment. But rival stations haven't really looked like responding.

Look at ITV, they say: its remit demands it runs children's programming in the early afternoon, then it staggers towards the early evening news with tired old repeats such as Rising Damp and Wycliffe.

Surely, though, rivals will soon feel compelled to follow Channel 4's lead? Perhaps, Kelly Williams, the sales director of five, says: "I think we're seeing quite a competitive battle building between Channel 4 and ITV (which is rumoured to be bringing in Sharon Osbourne to compete head to head against O'Grady). Some might argue that's the definition of sexy. It doesn't matter what you think of the likes of Edmonds - something's clearly happening here. It proves at one level that whatever Channel 4 does in scheduling terms turns to gold."

But Neil Johnston, the head of TV buying at OMD UK, is more sceptical.

He says: "For certain brands, such as household goods, what Channel 4 has been doing is brilliant. It's a good environment delivering good audiences, cost effectively. But the other channels have a lower quality environment - and the advertising, much of it from less well-established brands, doesn't reflect well on the programming such as it is."

He doesn't think that's about to change and others argue that, over the short term, Channel 4 is by no means guaranteed a return on its daytime programming investment, even while it remains unopposed. But if other broadcasters compete heavily, then one thing is sure - no-one wins.

Other observers point to the fact that even the best teatime programming remains relatively cheap - and is worth a punt for all concerned. Richard Oliver, the broadcast director of Universal McCann, suspects there may be something cyclical at work. He says: "Media owners tend to spend most of their time focusing on peak but now and again they'll spot the possibility that if they raise their daytime impacts by 5 per cent, that might have significant implications for their overall audience position. It can appear an easy win. But whether that translates into ad revenue is another matter.

It won't appeal to all advertisers because the ratings tend to be strongest against already heavy TV users. So even though the audience levels are similar to what you can expect in late peak, they're not as attractive as peaktime."

YES - Andy Bolden, UK media director, GlaxoSmithKline "When you find new ways of looking at a media channel, people will often jump on it. I hope agencies will take more notice of this. Obviously some day-parts are not appropriate for all brands. I'm a firm believer in fit-for-purpose media."

MAYBE - Kelly Williams, sales director, five

"TV companies focus on peak because that's where there's more money to be made. Whether Channel 4 can turn ratings success into revenue remains to be seen. Five has smaller budgets but we take daytime seriously."

NO - Neil Johnston, head of TV buying, OMD UK

"If there is overall TV revenue growth, there will be more competition in that sector. At the moment there doesn't seem much chance of that. I think most channels will see it as more cost-effective to concentrate on peaktime."

MAYBE - Richard Oliver, broadcast director, Universal McCann "Channel 4's performance is very good news for all concerned. Other broadcasters may well want to compete, but they probably won't want to divert much in the way of resource from peak."

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