The industry has welcomed the shock appointment of David Elstein, the
former head of programming at BSkyB, to the post of chief executive of
However, his arrival has also fuelled rumours that the channel is
running into problems with its launch plans.
Elstein, whose appointment comes just four months before Channel 5 is
due on air, is taking over the role from Ian Ritchie, who had overall
responsibility for launching the channel. Ritchie remains at the channel
in the new post of chief operating officer, reporting to Elstein.
Frank Barlow, the chairman of Channel 5 Broadcasting, commented: ‘David
is one of Britain’s most talented and respected broadcasting executives
and brings significant additional strength to Channel 5’s management
The channel is due to go on air in the first week of January 1997. But
it cannot launch until it has retuned the TV equipment in 90 per cent of
the homes that will be disturbed by the channel’s signal. Speculation is
mounting that the channel will not reach the required level in time.
Elstein, however, denied that there were any problems with the channel’s
launch plans. ‘Channel 5 has assembled a first-class team, who are well
on track with the tasks facing them,’ he said.
It is not the first time that Elstein has been associated with the UK’s
fifth terrestrial TV channel. He was the man who put together BSkyB’s
bid for the licence last year. In the event, Sky submitted the lowest
bid for the licence, at just pounds 2 million. Elstein will now be
working for the company that secured the licence on a bid of pounds 22
Several members of the Channel 5 team that Elstein will be working with
were actually members of the proposed Sky Channel 5 line-up. Both Dawn
Airey, Channel 5’s programme director, and Nick Milligan, the channel’s
sales director, were part of Elstein’s Channel 5 bid.
Milligan welcomed the appointment as a strong signal to the advertising
community: ‘David comes from a truly commercial programming heritage. He
has developed extensive client relationships at Sky and this can only
strengthen our commercial position at Channel 5.’
Elstein has been greeted as a suitable frontman for Channel 5 as it
nears its launch. Jim Hytner, Sky’s marketing director, pointed out that
Elstein has ‘represented Sky in environments that have been pretty hot
for us - politically or with the media - and he’s been brilliant at
that. He’s hugely articulate with magnificent presence.’
Christine Walker, the chief executive of Zenith Media, which handles
Sky’s media account, is sceptical about Channel 5’s likely launch date,
but said that Elstein is ‘a fantastic appointment. He’s a phenomenal
frontman, incredibly bright and absolutely right for the channel.’
The 51-year-old Elstein comes from a strong programming background.
Having gained a double first at Cambridge by the age of 19, he was the
youngest general trainee at the BBC in 1964.
After four years at the BBC he spent 14 years as a producer/director at
Thames Television. He went on to work at London Weekend Television,
Primetime TV, Goldcrest TV and launch his own production company, Brook
Productions, before returning to Thames in 1986 as the director of
programmes. He took up the same post at Sky in 1993.
The Elstein file
1964 BBC, trainee
1968 Thames TV, producer/director
1982 Independent producer
1986 Thames, director of programmes
1993 Sky, director of programmes
1996 Channel 5, chief executive