MEDIA: Terrestrial talent turns to cable and satellite

When BSkyB kicked off the satellite revolution, its brash tone was set by the hard nosed Australian packagers who put together the schedules and devised the ‘stings’ and ‘promos’ to wrap around its bought in programmes.

When BSkyB kicked off the satellite revolution, its brash tone was set

by the hard nosed Australian packagers who put together the schedules

and devised the ‘stings’ and ‘promos’ to wrap around its bought in

programmes.



What is interesting about the current wave of launches, stimulated by

the prospect of real multi-channel digital TV, is that high quality

British programmers are suddenly walking out of mainstream terrestrial

TV and joining in. These are not rejects. Nor are they young hopefuls

seeking free training from the likes of Kelvin MacKenzie. The message

from these seasoned professionals is simple: they have seen the future

and intend to get in on the ground floor providing basic cable and

satellite packages.



For two years former Thames TV executive David Elstein, director of

programmes at BSkyB, has ploughed a seemingly lonely furrow, heroically

promoting satellite’s corner as the sole top class British broadcaster

to have swapped sides. No longer. As children’s TV celebrates its 50th

anniversary, one of the sector’s most respected creatives, Janie Grace,

is running the UK’s Nickelodeon Channel, customising its American

programmes for British viewers, and pioneering devices such as letting

children schedule the channel. Her contemporaries in terrestrial TV,

corralled into a few hours of airtime, rather than controlling a whole

channel are watching closely.



As this week’s launch of Granada Sky Broadcasting’s new satellite

services confirms, the creative people are now arriving from terrestrial

TV’s heartland. Chief executive Stuart Prebble is a former editor of

World in Action. Diana Nelmes, in charge of five lifestyle slots, is the

person who devised the award-winning This Morning and has a raft of

other hits. Cherry Cole, director of broadcasting, was head of

presentation at Channel 4. She joined Channel 4 at the start from the

BBC because she saw that it represented the future and joins digital

broadcasting with similar conviction. This willingness to embrace multi-

channel TV is also rampant at the BBC: its recent ten-year digital plans

were devised by a top team from Alan Yentob downwards.



This is a turning point of sorts, precisely what cable and satellite

needs: a real creative boost to the programming side, rather than who

has the best library. For so long many senior programme makers have felt

frustrated by the rigid and formulaic schedules which mixed mainstream

channels require. In embracing the future they signal that they are also

prepared to battle with the harsh realities of low-budget TV by

redesigning the way they work, by gambling on commissioning long-running

series, and scheduling channels of rolling repeats. If they can’t make

it work, no one can.



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