Media: All about ... Rebranding UKTV

Just how successful has the UKTV evolution been, Alasdair Reid asks.

Watch wasn't. Watched, that is. Not nearly enough. Especially, of course, where the duo Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan were concerned.

Last year, when the daytime king and queen of the chat show sofa announced they were quitting Channel 4 and were decamping with their frothy double act to UKTV, it was heralded as a sign of the times.

It was, according to some observers, brave and innovative (on the part of both the broadcaster and the talent) and a dawning of a new age for digital multichannel TV - and nothing at all to do with the rather large sums of money said to be on the table.

Large sums of money provided by BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media, the owners of UKTV, and generated by Virgin's sales arm ids, which has the sales contract for UKTV. However, this arrangement could change should BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 finalise their expected joint venture and take on sales for UKTV.

And some were sceptical about the whole UKTV relaunch. One newspaper commentator was particularly tart, pointing out that even the most popular of UKTV's channels attracted, in the wider scale of things, minuscule audiences - and argued that Richard and Judy were consigning themselves to a "TV graveyard".

UKTV was on a roll, though. It had pulled off what was arguably the television market's coolest stunt of 2007, rebranding a rather dull re-run channel called UKTV G2 as Dave.

Within weeks, Dave's audience share had begun climbing, thanks not just to an astute marketing campaign, but also due to the fact that it had been given a slot on Freeview.

UKTV became emboldened. If it could reinvent UKTV G2, it could surely believe in its ability to reinvent the other channels in its portfolio - and with a bit of daring and the right sort of audacious investment strategy, it could aim to play in the big league.

Its reinvention will be complete in June when UKTV Food rebrands as Good Food, in a licencing deal with BBC Worldwide's magazine title of the same name.

But unfortunately, what should have been the triumphal end to an inspired evolutionary process has been slightly spoiled by the decision, taken in the first week of May, to end Richard and Judy's agony.

Watch had basically been created as a showcase channel for their new show. When it launched, Richard and Judy's New Position attracted an audience of around 100,000. Recently, it has been lucky to pull in 8,000. This for a product that, on Channel 4, had regularly racked up figures of up to three million. Their last show is on 3 July.

1. The architect of UKTV's reinvention is David Abraham, who arrived as the chief executive in April 2007, succeeding Dick Emery, who had retired. Abraham joined from Discovery Networks USA - and before that he was a founding partner of the ad agency St Luke's.

2. UKTV G2 relaunched as Dave on 15 October 2007 with a brand identity ("the home of witty banter") developed by Red Bee Media and a strategy to target 16- to 44-year-old men with a peak-time schedule featuring re-runs of Top Gear. It became UKTV's leading brand in terms of audience delivery and revenue generation - chalking up an additional £25 million year on year in 2008.

3. Watch, which airs "classic" costume dramas such as Cranford as well as Richard and Judy, launched on 7 October 2008 along with G.O.L.D. (its generic descriptor retooled as an acronym standing for "go on laugh daily") and UKTV Drama, which was revamped as Alibi.

4. UKTV Documentary was relaunched as Eden on 26 January 2009; UKTV People became Blighty on 17 February and UKTV History remerged as Yesterday on 2 March. UKTV Style morphed into Home on 30 April. The facelift ends with the launch of a new channel, Really, aimed at women on 30 April, and the debut of Good Food in June.

5. In most cases, rebranding has resulted in a significant improvement in spontaneous brand recall and audience performance. Eden recorded a launch day average TVR of 0.195 - up 119 per cent on its 2008 average and it has settled back to a (still decent) 0.13 share. Dave's audience share has settled at a level higher (well in advance of 10 per cent higher) than its UKTV G2 figure. UKTV's impacts for the year to date are significantly up year on year.



- Watch may have been a big public relations setback, but it shouldn't cloud the overall picture. In the current market, increased audience translates, pretty much pro rata, into increased revenue share. Neil Johnston, the head of TV at OMD UK, says: "The market rewards share of TV viewing and UKTV has to be commended for forging ahead and not just resting on its laurels - especially in the current climate. I think every single revamp has been successful. It shows what can be done."

- And it's not just about spot revenues. Its sales house, ids, says that it has become easier to attract sponsors. Country Life, for instance, was attracted to the warm feelings of Britishness evoked by Blighty - and it might not have been quite so moved by its previous incarnation, UKTV People.


- Commercial television channels have never been great at branding or promoting themselves - preferring to obscure themselves behind faceless and stolid corporate acronyms, like ITV. Or worse, a number. It's hard to become emotionally attached to a four, say, or a five.

- True, Sky broke this particular mould, but it has become a diffused and overworked brand, associated not just with a platform, but with a whole host of very different channels. There are those (and not all of them work for UKTV) who argue that UKTV's management of its brands represents a step change for the industry - one that could and should inspire other media owners.