SPOTLIGHT ON: CHANNEL 5: Does C5 deserve a pat on the back after six months on air? - It’s not been a disaster but C5 still needs to make us love it, Alasdair Reid says

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.

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

footie matches.



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

months.’



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.’



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