Media: Breakfast TV - Breakfast TV seeks to break the mould - Terrestrial TV's breakfast shows are moving out of their niches in a bid to boost ratings

This week's re-vamp of the BBC's breakfast TV programming is a rare development in a relatively unchanging area of the media. Since the launch of Channel 4's Big Breakfast in 1992, the three main breakfast broadcasters have each stuck to their audience niche with only minor, cosmetic changes.

This week's re-vamp of the BBC's breakfast TV programming is a rare development in a relatively unchanging area of the media. Since the launch of Channel 4's Big Breakfast in 1992, the three main breakfast broadcasters have each stuck to their audience niche with only minor, cosmetic changes.

GMTV is the mainstream broadcast which targets the mass market, C1C2DE audience; the BBC's service is more news-based for those that have moved from the Today programme but do not have the stomach for Eamonn Holmes first thing in the morning; Channel 4 offers a funkier, more entertainment-driven show with a younger, and smaller, audience.

The BBC's change is, on the one hand, an internal re-alignment resulting from a realisation that News 24 and BBC 1 are so close in their breakfast output that they may as well simulcast (as they now will do, for five days a week), while on the other it is an attempt to edge into GMTV's more mass market territory.

The BBC has segmented its new three-hour show into more serious output at the beginning, and more relaxed ouput towards the end (even going so far as to introduce that symbol of commercial breakfast programming - the sofa). In a nod to the information age, there will also be a screen split during news bulletins.

Ironically, while the BBC risks accusations of 'dumbing down' with its move, GMTV is going the other way: looking to inject more challenging content into its output. GMTV has been struggling over the summer with audiences down and one response seems to be the adoption of a harder edge to programming with recent reports from AIDS-affected Botswana.

Despite the moves by its competitors, it is probably Channel 4's Big Breakfast which has most need to change. It has never been able to re-take the ratings heights it achieved when Chris Evans was host. From an audience then of over one million viewers the figure is now half. A crisis is looming as the show's most popular presenter since Evans, Johnny Vaughan, is leaving at the end of the year.

The channel says the show will remain, but is being re-vamped. The problem is that Channel 4 has little room for manoeuvre.

It is restricted by its remit from competing for the mass audience with the other channels; it has tried and rejected the idea of business programming, and the children's niche is well and truly swamped by satellite and cable channels and BBC2. The likelihood is that replacement presenters will be found and it will be business as usual in the sleepy breakfast market.



BREAKFAST

Andrew Thompson

Position: Editor

Station: BBC1 Audience: 1.6 million (8 am peak average for the year to date)



'The old show was feeling a bit tired, and people felt it was a little too serious and too austere. I think we can provide a strong news and current affairs service but do it in a way that is accessible.

'There are a lot of fairly radical changes - new sets, new titles, new graphics, new presenters, and we are also introducing a separate news bulletin. The content is also being adapted to appeal to the different demands of viewers within the three hours. For example, in the early part of the show people watch for less time, so between six and seven there will be much snappier-paced items with 'infobursts'.

'We will split the screen into three or four chunks and offer different information in each - for example a weather map, market information, sports headlines - it is very web influenced. We found that 30 per cent of viewers between six and seven also look at a text service which gave us the idea.

'In the second hour it will be popular, intelligent current affairs and in the final hour it is more about conversation - news-driven but sofa-based, with the presenters being more relaxed.

'We want to hold on to our heartland audience, but the evidence suggests that people turned to GMTV after ten minutes or so because they have more connection with their presenters and they wanted something more fun.'



GMTV

Martin Frizell

Position: Editor

Station: ITV

Audience: 1.8 million (8 am peak average for the year to date)



'The typical viewer we are aiming at is a 30-year-old housewife with two children.

'I am trying to bring the age profile down a little lower, to just below 30 - we are aiming at the young mum category really.

'Now the average viewer is round about 34-years-old, and we have more women than men.

'We do a lot of research and our viewers say they want news, weather, some entertainment news and some gossip.

'We are introducing some slightly harder features that will make them say, 'Wow, I did not know that', and we are also becoming more campaigning - we gave away 5,000 smoke alarms in the summer.

'Some of the features we will be doing will be aimed at younger, more aspirational viewers. For example, we have introduced a regular money slot - we have an expert in to talk about shares - this could be a target for financial PROs.

'We also have an internet correspondent who will be doing more things about the web and a new programme on a Friday called Entertainment Today which could be a big vehicle for showbiz PROs.

'We are trying to steal viewers from the BBC by being more newsy, but still with the accessible GMTV stuff and a friendly face.'



BIG BREAKFAST

Andi Peters

Position: Commissioning editor for youth programming

Station: Channel 4

Audience: 0.5 million (8 am peak average for the year to date)



'Big Breakfast is aimed at a large section of the viewing audience - essentially they are 16 to 34 but we also get them from 12 to 55.

'We provide a daily magazine show that is different every morning - that is the beauty of it.

'It sits well against the rivals - BBC1 is very focused on news, GMTV is an entertainment programme aimed at housewives, BBC2 is doing children - we are doing a service for the young.

'With news we are reactive because we need to do an entertainment show every day encompassing news and events - so we have the toughest job and I am constantly surprised how well we do.

'The format will change in January following Johnny (Vaughan)'s departure, but it will still be a live two hour show aimed at the same audience.

'There is no need for more change - when we used to get bigger figures, BBC2 was not doing what it is doing now and GMTV was not as good as it is now.

'It will be interesting to see the BBC with comfy sofas at breakfast - they will probably get back behind desks when a big news event happens.

'The breakfast audiences overall are quite stable, we are not in a huge decline.'



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