Schedulers have a limited amount of weaponry in their arsenal - but
boy, when they get a new toy, do they like to play with it. Take the
scheduling discovery of the decade - the themed evening. Or, in its rare
elasticated variants, the themed day or weekend.
In the last couple of years we’ve had: soft porn, sci-fi, sit com,
Stirling Moss, horror, doctors, gangsters, Mersey (Brookside followed by
Cilla), Valentines, Spike Milligan and Tony Blair. To mention but a few.
Turkey of the lot - and this is a ferociously contested category - was
BBC 2’s Kung Fu night. (That’s a load of dodgy old Bruce Lee movies to
you and me.)
This is mainly a minority channel thing. BBC 2 or Channel 4 can pretend
for an evening that they’re taking a walk on the wild side, not only
being a bit radical and daring but doing stuff that only niche satellite
channels can do. And it can all seem very post-modern and ironic. Take
some kitsch trash (that you’d never in a millions years find an excuse
to schedule in the normal course of events), package it up with snippets
of link programming, promote it heavily in the national press - and then
prepare to be ever so slightly amused while you watch.
But more to the point, it’s cheap. Never mind the packaging, these are,
of course, repeats. And it can be cheap as in gimmick. Themed nights
often generate publicity, and, like newspaper promotions, attract a fair
degree of trial viewership. Do they interest advertisers though,
especially when it comes to quality of environment?
Last week ITV announced it was climbing aboard the bandwagon, with a ’No
Worries’ weekend of antipodean entertainment sponsored by Foster’s.
Also last week, there was speculation that some advertisers were
slightly worried about Channel 4’s gay night constructed around the
’coming out’ episode of Ellen.
David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, insists that
they work for advertisers. He’s especially keen on the ITV
’It’s not easy to create programming that complements your brand’s
values - it’s often easier to match up to existing programmes. And if
you have a commercial supplier able to package them up for you in time
for your big marketing push, then so much the better.’
But do themed nights deliver the right sort of audiences in the right
sort of frame of mind? Cuff says yes - especially if it’s done well and
isn’t a cynical exercise in tatty telly. Julie Oldroyd, Channel 4’s
programme business manager - she’s the person charged with selling the
benefits of themed nights to advertisers - agrees. ’Coming Out Night was
of great interest to advertisers - we were fully sold. The evening
didn’t have a sponsor, but it’s rare to get a sponsor on these things
because of the short lead times involved. If we tell people too far in
advance, BBC 2 comes along and copies us.
’Ultimately we are seeking to boost audiences across the board, but even
if we don’t achieve that they always offer advertisers specific
targeting opportunities. And each different night delivers a different
target. They are not all just entertainment - look at the Now We Are One
night on the Blair government. It’s not just a cynical exercise. If it
was, it wouldn’t work.’
Channel 4 can even argue that this sort of thing is part of its
But ITV? Isn’t this sort of wheeze a minority channel thing? And hasn’t
ITV missed the point a bit, constructing the whole thing purely for an
advertiser, rather than thinking about the viewer?
David Cuff doesn’t think so. ’It works if it can generate genuine
But broadcasters have to be careful because viewers aren’t stupid. They
have to be careful about prostituting their brand.’