Who’d have thought it? Six months on and all the big salaries at
Channel 5 are still earning their ... well, big salaries. Fully paid-up
members of the chattering classes expect a big media launch to provide a
feeding frenzy sooner or later. Channel 5, which went on air at the end
of March, has been quiet. Too damn quiet.
But, as one Channel 5 director said the other week: ’All media launches
are disasters except for the ones that aren’t.’ He then reeled off a
dozen profitable satellite channels whose growth has been uninterrupted,
not to say smooth, since their launch.
Perhaps the rules have changed. There is a quiet path to success between
rave reviews and hate mail - and Channel 5 is showing that even a
national terrestrial channel can take that path. So perhaps it’s time to
give credit where it’s due.
This is not to say that everything has gone according to plan. The
programme strategy has undergone fundamental revision, with more money
found for premium film deals with Fox and Warner and to secure top
But this all happened smoothly and early enough for it to be seen as
proactive and evolutionary rather than a desperate response to a ratings
crisis. And, if ratings have been below some people’s expectations, the
ready-built excuse - that not everyone in the country can receive it yet
- has always been a good fallback.
And it hasn’t done at all badly in the airtime market. Analysts
predicted that it would have to sell itself at a 50 per cent discount
against ITV this year. So far, the figure has been closer to 20 per cent
and the sales team has comfortably exceeded its targets.
Nick Milligan, the sales director of Channel 5, comments: ’In sales
terms, we have cut the price of television by taking viewing from the
BBC. Younger upmarket viewers not only like the channel but are now
watching more television. Media buyers now have more choice. We’ve had
fun launching the channel - all in all, it’s not been a bad six
But there are some dissenting voices. Last week, Ammirati Puris Lintas
published a survey suggesting that Channel 5 has established itself in
the minds but not the hearts of the viewing public - 56 per cent of
respondents say they wouldn’t be disappointed if they could no longer
get the channel (Campaign, 3 October).
Channel 5 management were understandably furious about the APL survey -
and point out that the sample size was a mere 1,027 adults. But Paul
Longhurst, media director of APL, fears that by not differentiating
itself from the rest of the market Channel 5 is storing up problems.
He says: ’We want something that is complementary to ITV rather than
competing directly. Channel 5 can do a lot better in the youth sector.
Football and movies are keeping the ratings up but that’s not the sort
of programming to build a strategy on.’
Channel 5 would argue that you need surefire ’hooks’ such as films and
sport to draw viewers into the rest of the schedule. Some agencies
disagree, saying that, in multi-channel households, sports and movie
buffs are adept at dipping in and out of channels.
But Mick Perry, the vice-chairman of Universal McCann, argues that
Channel 5 has been good news for everyone in the advertising market. ’It
has taken some audience from the BBC and thus put a brake on inflation.
Yes, there are two main audience drivers at the moment but I think
Channel 5 is starting to get there when it comes to other parts of the
schedule. Are they ready to be competitive across the whole day? I doubt
it yet. That needs a bigger budget. But even if the audience settles at
this level it will be a help - the key for us is the extra choice it can
provide at peak times.’