Media Perspective: RTL's nonchalance over five shows it's the time to bail out

Directors are fleeing five faster than furious Scousers from Wayne Rooney's girlfriend's birthday party. And while it's hard to picture Nick Milligan and the recently resigned marketing director, David Pullan, with faces as red as punchy, pissed-up Evertonians, you could take the view that they've caused just as much chaos.

Milligan, five's former deputy chief executive, is seen as a particularly heavy loss. Renowned as a gifted charmer, he helped the channel punch above its weight in bringing in advertising revenue (an 8.1 per cent share against a 6.6 per cent share of adult viewing). But Pullan too is a respected operator who must take much of the credit for five's rebranding and the hiring of the creative agency TBWA\London, which has produced some stand-out work.

So are they rats deserting a sinking ship, or simply men of ambition seeking new challenges?

Certainly both are the latter. After seven years, it was hardly surprising that Milligan needed a sterner and bigger test and Pullan had also done his bit. After overseeing a rebranding and sea-change in five's communications strategy, what else was there left for him to do?

But it seems obvious to me that it's a good time to get out of five.

Unless its majority owner, RTL, has a radical rethink over programming investment, it's hard to see five increasing its audience share, especially in the multichannel age. So it would seem that the chief executive, Jane Lighting, has a pretty thankless task trying to bolster the broadcaster at the moment.

And the noises emanating from Germany are hardly reassuring. If Gerhard Zeiler, the chief executive of RTL, gets any more relaxed in his vision for five, he'll have to consider applying for Italian citizenship. His recent remarks that he's going to make his mind up within 18 months which rival broadcaster to partner with as Five grapples with its multichannel strategy are hardly indicative of a man imposing a vision.

Mark White, Milligan's replacement as the sales chief at five, recently reassured me that RTL is massively committed to the channel's future, but the German giant seems to be to be doing a very good job of impersonating a disinterested parent, considering five's fortunes almost as an afterthought.

It presumably has a preferred strategy for the future but it should make this public, rather than sending out an impression of, at best, indifference and, at worst, indecision. This dithering may not have had a direct bearing on Milligan or Pullan leaving, but it hardly inspires confidence.

Now I'm a betting man once again, I'll give anyone a tenner on RTL getting out within two years. Any takers?

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