Alasdair Reid reports that not only was the decision a surprise, it was
Perhaps there was some poetic justice in the Independent Television
Commission’s decision to award the Channel 5 franchise to the aptly
named Channel 5 Broadcasting consortium last week.
One of the prime movers in the consortium is Pearson, which owns Thames
Television, the company that many feel should have been awarded the
franchise when it was put up for grabs the first time around, back in
1992. The ITC ducked out of making a choice on that occasion. This time,
it evidently had no problem in deciding.
So much so that its choice caught most people on the hop. The clear
favourite was UKTV, which bid the most. Informed opinion was that all
the bidders would easily meet the required programming and financial
requirements and that the licence would thus go to the highest bidder.
Not so. UKTV failed to cross the programming hurdle - as did Virgin
But if there was surprise in many quarters of the industry, there was
also a sense of relief. ‘We are just glad that someone has the licence
at last,’ Adrian Birchall, chairman of the Media Centre and of the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s Future of Broadcasting
Committee, says. ‘It is excellent news for advertisers. With the calibre
of people the consortium has, it will make a good job of things.’
David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, says that it may
not have been the best choice but it is certainly a good one. ‘Because
MAI is in the consortium and it is being led by Greg Dyke, it seems at
first sight to be dominated by the same old ITV interests,’ he states.
‘But that is a false impression. MAI isn’t really in the ITV inner
circle and Greg Dyke will probably want to pay off a few scores at ITV.
There will be a lot of very motivated people there.’
Cuff firmly believes that the consortium’s plans add up. ‘We believe
that the best approach for the channel is to go a populist route,’ he
says, and points out that it is well placed to offer a strong populist
schedule. It has deals with Grundy - which produces Neighbours as well
as game shows - and with Talbot Freemantle, perhaps the top game show
producer, which has hit shows such as Blind Date and Play Your Cards
‘Our research indicates that Channel 5 can hope to take 11 per cent of
viewing in all homes that can receive it,’ Cuff adds. ‘That will give it
a 7.5 per cent share of all viewing and, if it sells itself at a 40 per
cent discount to ITV, it can take a decent amount of revenue.’