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