MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; Channel 5: Has Channel 5 found a novel way to produce its schedule?

Alasdair Reid investigates Channel 5’s plans to give TV viewers what they want

Alasdair Reid investigates Channel 5’s plans to give TV viewers what

they want

Do agencies know more about what makes viewers tick than schedulers and

programme makers? It’s a question most TV people dismiss with hysterical

laughter. Commissioning editors are the anointed, the chosen few, and

their rare gifts are not appreciated by the commercially minded oiks in

advertising agencies. There is special contempt reserved for agencies

and advertisers - like Unilever, which now has an in-house programme-

making unit - who actually have a go at making programmes themselves.

Or at least that used to be the case. Channel 5 is going to be

different. Last week, its marketing director, David Brook, appointed

Michaelides and Bednash to a consultancy role on scheduling and

programming issues (Campaign, 14 June). When Brook was marketing

director of the Guardian, he had a unique approach to developing the

product - he’d ask reader focus groups what they liked or disliked about

the paper and try to discover what they would like to see in the future.

Michaelides and Bednash also has substantial expertise in focus group

work. As a strategic planning agency, it puts far more emphasis on

qualitative factors than most media specialists.

Channel 5 programmes are clearly going to be well-researched. But can

agencies, whose expertise is marketing-oriented, really contribute to

the construction of schedules? Michaelides and Bednash and David Brook

were not available for comment. But one media specialist who has already

crossed the divide is Robert Ditcham, who left his position as the

broadcast director of Initiative Media to become a founding director of

Rapture TV, a youth-oriented cable channel due to launch later this


‘For us, the start point is the fact that up to now programmes have not

been made for viewers - they have been made for the benefit of programme

makers,’ he states. ‘What we are able to do is to identify audiences

that aren’t being catered for and consider what might be provided for

them. We’re not saying we have a magic formula but the very fact that we

are thinking about the problem means we’re a step ahead of most people.

‘Any attempts to bridge the gap between the worlds of advertising and

programme making have to be beneficial. Clearly Channel 5 recognises


Michaelides and Bednash will be joined by Pattison Horswell Durden,

appointed by Channel 5 last month to a brand consultancy role. PHD has

done this before - it now has a specialist programme development arm,

PHD Bigtime. Its managing director, Tess Alps, says that agencies can

help broadcasters in many ways.

‘Our bread and butter is understanding audiences, not just

quantitatively but qualitatively. We have a greater understanding of

people’s media consumption and how they feel about it. And we can help

programmers see things from our perspective. Schedulers tend to think

about getting the highest numbers possible. We show them how developing

unique types of reach and cover can bring them more revenue.’

Alps concedes that programmers do a reasonable amount of their own

research on programmes but she believes that it is not often carried out

in the context of an overall schedule. Broadcasters don’t understand how

the individual programming pieces build to form the viewers’ perceptions

of the channel as a brand.

‘Viewers have pretty sophisticated ideas of what a schedule should

deliver,’ she says. ‘It helps when you are compiling a Saturday evening

schedule to know what people’s expectations are regarding Saturday

programming. At least you are in a far better position than someone who

has no idea what people think about it.’