Top Performers of 2005: Medium of the Year - Channel 4

In a year when TV advertising came under pressure as it never had before, Channel 4 met the challenge with innovative programming and marketing.

You'd be hard-pushed to find an article on the terrestrial TV advertising market these days that isn't about its imminent demise. The rise of the internet and the explosion of niche channels have led to a debilitating fragmentation of the market for what have traditionally been the major players.

However, against this very negative backdrop, one major terrestrial broadcaster has really risen to the challenge. Channel 4 has used programming, innovation and marketing to combat the excruciating pressure on the TV market, and this year has been the only terrestrial broadcaster to increase its share of the TV audience.

And this growth has come from the most challenging of audiences. Channel 4's peaktime share of viewing has more than doubled to 10.3 per cent over the year, its highest-ever figure. Much of that growth has come from the marketers' favourites, the 16- to 34-year-olds. While its rivals have seen their respective shares of the youth audience slide, Channel 4's has risen by 6 per cent to 13.4 per cent. Its peak share of 16- to 34-year-olds has also risen, this time by 11 per cent to 15.4 per cent.

So how has the channel achieved this growth? Well, hats off to Kevin Lygo (bottom, second from right), Channel 4's director of television and the man behind its intuitive programming schedule.

Jamie's School Dinners turned Channel 4 into a successful political lobbyist; the programme had an immediate effect on the Government's policy on children's nutrition.

Then there was Desperate Housewives, the water-cooler topic de rigeur over the summer. Lost is still on our screens and achieving regular audiences in excess of 3.5 million, while Channel 4's swansong coverage of the Ashes Test cricket series saw the game gain cult status in the UK - for a brief moment, the sport even seemed to challenge football in terms of popularity.

And, of course, there was Big Brother. The reality show is not pulling in the audiences it used to, but it is still a banker programme for the station and runs for three whole months over the summer. The series final in 2005 brought in 7.8 million viewers, a 34.4 per cent audience share.

Such successes have enabled the Channel 4 sales team, led by Andy Barnes (bottom, right) and Matt Shreeve, to take a bullish stance in the trading season. Advertising revenue at the time of writing was forecast to be up by 5 per cent in comparison with 2004, at about £710 million. This exceeds the 3 per cent growth predicted for the wider television market.

In addition to attracting bigger audiences, Channel 4, under its new chief executive, Andy Duncan (bottom, third from right), used 2005 to put down the necessary foundations for future strength.

In the spring, the channel announced its intention to abandon the pay-TV model for digital channels, moving E4 on to the Freeview digital terrestrial platform. The shift coincided with the launch of Big Brother 2005, giving the station an instant cachet among its target audience. As a result, E4's share of viewing in digital homes has risen by 25 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

The broadcaster went on to build its digital portfolio further with the launch of More4 in the autumn. The arrival of Channel 4's "adult entertainment channel" was backed by a multimillion-pound advertising campaign devised by DDB. Peter Dale was made the head of the new venture, and made an impressive start in programming terms with shows including its high-profile David Blunkett docu-drama, A Very Social Secretary.

The station is also looking at rolling out a live quiz channel, Call TV, on Freeview and Sky. Other initiatives include preparations to make all Channel 4 content available over the internet, although a date for that launch has not yet been decided.

There was one other area in which Channel 4 excelled in 2005, and that was its marketing. From its mesmeric idents directed by Brett Foraker to its childish marketing of Jamie's School Dinners, Channel 4 has promoted itself faultlessly over the past 12 months.

However, the channel had to beat off some serious competition in order to secure the Medium of the Year accolade in 2005.

The Guardian was a strong contender after it rallied in the autumn and relaunched in its Berliner format.

Forward planning saw the downsizing of the paper handled with aplomb.

Stuart Taylor, the newspaper's commercial director, took agency press directors through the changes and avoided the kind of commercial ill-feeling that surrounded The Times' and The Independent's shift to a tabloid format.

The redesign was well-received: the paper's unique format avoided the accusations of dumbing down that were levelled at its downsizing rivals.

The general consensus was that the new Guardian was both easy to navigate and easy on the eye.

All this had a positive effect on circulation: the redesign and surrounding marketing campaign saw year-on-year sales in October increase by 6 per cent to 404,000 copies.

The only criticism that could be levelled at the paper is, what took it so long? After all, its bid to reverse the decline of the embattled newspaper market came two long years after that of The Independent.

Google, meanwhile, could do no wrong. Its position as one of the pioneers of the internet is steering it to ever-greater power as the global online advertising community returns to rude health.

There is no other medium in the world that dominates its market to such a degree. Anyone who wants to buy search has to use Google (and many buyers rely on Google alone). This is very similar to the position that was enjoyed by network broadcasters - including ITV, CBS, ABC and NBC - in the era before TV fragmentation. The difference is that Google is in a position to dominate international media schedules, not just local ones.

And this position propelled Google's market capitalisation to $81 billion on a share price of $293.12 in June this year.

The figure enabled Google to overtake AOL Time Warner's market capitalisation of $78 billion and become the biggest media company in the world.

Recent winners: The Independent (2004); Sky (2003); five (2002); Glamour (2001); Metro (2000).

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