Newsmaker/Jim Hytner: Why Channel 5’s boss wants to take more control.

Is Jim Hytner’s move to C5 a step towards running a station? By Anna Griffiths

Jim Hytner's appointment as the marketing and communications

director of Channel 5 caused a few exclamations and furrowed brows. Not because he isn’t up to the job. As Sky’s marketing director, he’s got bags of experience so there’s actually some concern that he is, perhaps, too big for the job.

Why leave Sky, a channel whose budgets dwarf that of Channel 5, when the sexiest part - the launch - has already been done, and the tough bit -

sustaining and building audiences - is still to come? After all, Channel

5, which launched in March, is no longer such a new kid on the block nor

is it the darling of ITV’s knockers. One media head describes the move

as ’a bit like moving from the Premier League to the Beazer Homes


Hytner, however, sees his new job as a ’fantastic opportunity’ and

almost licks his lips with relish as he talks about it. Explaining why

it is potentially better than his present post, he says: ’The job here

is fantastic, but is focused on advertising and distribution, and will

continue to be.

The job at Channel 5 is broader - publicity, PR, creative services,

strategic planning - it’s a team of 50. I have a team of six at


Hytner, a diminutive dynamo, is also is getting closer to his ambition

of heading his own TV channel. ’I’m 33 and it’s time to move up a


I am now taking on responsibilities of a board member and seeing things

in a different light. I would love to run a TV station, but that’s years

off. Without wishing to sound like a media luvvie, I’ve got the bug for

working in TV. I don’t want to leave the broadcasting arena. There will

be endless opportunities in the future, and this job is another step

towards that.’

Ambition is perhaps not the only thing that lured Hytner away from Sky

to Channel 5. There’s talk in the media industry that, after the

departure of his mentor, Sam Chisholm, the former chief executive of

Sky, along with the de-puty managing director, David Chance, Hytner

became increasingly unhappy with Chisholm’s replacement, Mark Booth, and

Elisabeth Murdoch, Sky’s director of programmes and general manager of


From working in an atmosphere where Chisholm let his golden boy get on

with developing marketing strategy, Booth, unable to interfere with the

workings of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, wanted to become more involved on

the marketing side - an intrusion which Hytner may not have


Hytner, however, insists he got on well with the new establishment. ’I

signed a new three-year contract six months ago, so there’s no question

of me not suiting the new regime.’

Hytner has enjoyed a rapid ascent up the career ladder, motivated,

perhaps, by the success of his older siblings; his brother Nick directed

the Madness of King George, and Richard, ex-chairman of the Henley

Centre, is chief executive of Publicis. When Hytner discovered that his

initial efforts to get into hotel and catering management interfered

with his attendance of Manchester United matches, he decided to take up

a trainee post at General Foods. Within a year, he was made associate

brand manager and, two years later, was poached by Coca-Cola as group

marketing manager.

Hytner is a pleasant character, but there’s a steely side when it comes

to business. Fiona Smedley, the joint managing director of Universal

McCann, explains: ’He’s extremely demanding and doesn’t suffer fools

gladly. He can be sharp, but not in a vicious way. There’s a mixture of

boyish charm and a deadly results-orientated business side. He can flip

between the two. He’s quite mercurial in the way he does that.’

For David Elstein, the chief executive of Channel 5, Hytner was the

obvious man for the marketing post and essential for building the

station’s audience.

’He’s got very good all-round marketing skills. In many ways, you could

argue that he has greater depth of experience than David Brook (Hytner’s

predecessor at Channel 5), particularly in TV. David’s experience was

firmly in newspapers. The major asset for Channel 5 is that Jim has got

a wide experience of distribution issues and a big chunk of Channel 5’s

business is to build penetration.’

Within the coming year, Channel 5 needs to boost its present reach of 68

per cent of all homes by driving aerial and satellite dish sales. Nick

Milligan, Channel 5’s sales director, says: ’We’ve got to reach another

two million homes by the end of 1998. For a man who’s sold dishes,

Channel 5 is the only terrestrial channel on satellite and we are free.

Every dish sold outside the aerial footprint is another customer.’

One of the few criticisms levelled at Hytner is that he can be too

sensitive, although not so oversensitive that he couldn’t cope with

Chisholm’s infamous fits of fury. He admits: ’It’s very important for me

to work around the right people, especially having worked with David

Chance and Sam Chisholm, who are inspirational. David, Nick and Dawn

(Airey, C5’s director of programming) are so driven, the same way as me,

and that drive is infectious.’

Sky has been known as the client from hell in terms of its demands on

advertising agencies, working its way steadily through a number of

creative shops. When Hytner became marketing director in 1994, he stuck

with the Design Clinic, which accepted his constant involvement, even to

the point of carrying through his campaign ideas, which have proved


The recent ’ready to watch’ press campaign in women’s glossies,

featuring couture designers interpreting Sky films through their

creations, was Hytner’s idea as he sought to broaden Sky’s appeal to

female audiences.

It is unlikely that Hytner will change this hands-on approach to

advertising, although he’s at pains to point out it will be ’in a

motivating way, not an interfering way’. This raises certain questions.

Will Hytner continue with the ’virtual team 5’ agency Brook created for

the TV channel’s advertising?

Will the new-wave team at Mother and the fast-talking boys at

Michaelides & Bednash be able to co-exist with someone who has very

strong ideas of his own? Will Hytner call a review?

These questions are answered by Hytner diplomatically. ’If it ain’t

broke, don’t fix it. I won’t do anything for a while, but I already have

ideas about how we should meet our goals. I won’t make changes for my

ego’s sake. Obviously, David Elstein has employed me because I have

ideas and a way of doing things, especially in broadcast marketing. I

won’t go over there and inform them that I will do things the Sky way;

at the same time, I won’t adhere to the status quo by agreeing with all

and sundry.’

Hytner is typically cautious about revealing his plans for Channel 5

before joining but, after much coaxing, reveals: ’I would like to think

the marketing department will have input into programming strategy and

be there to improve Nick Milligan’s sell to the market. This job will

not be just about advertising - it’s about direct marketing and

presentation on-air. Event-led marketing seems to be an effective

approach with limited budgets.’

After keeping a relatively low profile at Sky, Hytner seems keen to

court the public eye at Channel 5. ’I like working with companies that

are seen as public property. It’s far more exciting to work for a

company which invites criticism and praise than one that doesn’t invite

attention at all. There’s no question that people aren’t indifferent to

Channel 5.’

Hytner’s a strong public speaker and not averse to entertaining the

troops - this week, he’s donning top hat and tails to perform a

self-composed song and dance routine at Chisholm’s farewell bash. The

best way to lure him onto the dance floor, according to Smedley, is to

put on some 70s music, then it’s move over John Travolta.

So what won’t Hytner miss about Sky? ’I’ll least miss trying to

understand what Peter Shea (Sky’s director of sales) is saying at 1am in


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