SPOTLIGHT ON: CHANNEL 5 - Channel 5 shows confidence to recapture youth audience - C5 hopes to capitalise on its success with its latest schedule, Julian Lee says

Two-and-a-half years after its launch, there’s an air of quiet jubilation at Channel 5. Its share of total audience now stands at 5.6 per cent.

Two-and-a-half years after its launch, there’s an air of quiet

jubilation at Channel 5. Its share of total audience now stands at 5.6

per cent.



Its autumn schedule promises to restore the youthful image which the

channel cultivated at launch and, to cap it all, it’s on the brink of

making a profit.



And there’s more to come. A marketing campaign breaks in September

emphasising the channel’s irreverent and risk-taking attitude. And a

banker week next month, with Independence Day and exclusive coverage of

the England 2000 qualifier against Poland, signals the start of a

concerted campaign to ensure it capitalises on its success to date.



Understandably, its chief executive, David Elstein, is ebullient. ’If

this is what we can do after just two years, imagine what we might

achieve in five with steadily improving coverage, courtesy of digital

take-up, taking us from our current 80 per cent to over 85 per cent of

homes.’



Channel 5 says it’s well on the way to achieving its aim of being a

viable alternative to BBC1 and ITV. The magic figure of 8 per cent share

in a multi-channel environment is well within its sight.



David Cuff, broadcast director at Initiative Media, gives his verdict:

’It has helped to grow commercial TV’s share of viewing away from the

BBC. It’s delivered more impacts and shown the doom and gloom merchants

that TV is very much alive and well.’



In common with other media buyers and planners, however, Cuff would like

to see more investment in programming by Channel 5. ’There’s a definite

correlation between the amount of money invested in programming and the

share of audience. It’s encouraging news to hear that they’re coming

into profit,’ he says. As if in answer to his calls, last week Elstein

announced a 25 per cent increase in programming spend in the schedule

over the next five years taking it to pounds 143 million - though this

figure is still dwarfed by the BBC and ITV.



But what about the content? There has been a degree of uneasiness about

Channel 5’s strategy of broadening its audience and selling itself on

mass not profile. Wasn’t this the channel that was going to deliver the

elusive under-34s with its own brand of challenging and provocative

content?



If the channel moved away from this positioning, it is now returning to

it with, for example, a remake of It’s a Knockout. With none of the

remit drag of Channel 4, it is free (within bounds) to pursue that

audience.



Paul Parashar, broadcast director at New PHD, for one, will be

relieved.



’Last year they tried to go older and more mainstream in order to get

some of those bigger advertisers and they lost that younger profile.

It’s good to hear that they are addressing this issue and will reclaim

this in the coming months,’ he says.



But in order to attract that audience and keep them it will have to plan

more events like the documentary on David Ginola and Independence Day,

to be broadcast in the week beginning 4 September - when it expects its

share of weekly viewing to rise to 7 per cent. Whereas before, such a

high-profile schedule might have been planned once a quarter, Nick

Milligan, Channel 5’s sales director, predicts it will be once a

fortnight from now on.



But there remains the question of how Channel 5 can balance its

ambitions to be a credible alternative to mainstream channels such as

ITV and BBC1 while at the same time maintaining its profile among

younger viewers.



As the sales, programming and marketing elements of Channel 5 work ever

more closely together, that fine-tuning of the schedule will pay off,

buyers predict. ’Channel 5 has always appeared different because of the

way we brand and market ourselves, but the truth is that all

entertainment channels, be they BBC1, ITV or Channel 5, must deliver the

diversity and breadth of entertainment to allow planners/buyers to

create a schedule for any demographic they wish to reach,’ Milligan

replies.



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