MEDIA: Channel 5 needs to adapt its scheduling if it is to prosper

The Independent Television Commission’s second birthday present to Channel 5 was a damning performance review accusing it, among other things, of ’tackiness’ in its late-night erotic drama strand. Channel 5 CEO David Elstein, who tried to persuade the ITC to drop the offending word from the final report after seeing the draft, responded that the commission’s verdict was ’subjective’.

The Independent Television Commission’s second birthday present to

Channel 5 was a damning performance review accusing it, among other

things, of ’tackiness’ in its late-night erotic drama strand. Channel 5

CEO David Elstein, who tried to persuade the ITC to drop the offending

word from the final report after seeing the draft, responded that the

commission’s verdict was ’subjective’.



So it clearly is, but not all subjective judgments are unjustified.

Channel 5’s late-night movies and some of its documentaries have pushed

the boundaries of decency as far as terrestrial television is concerned,

even if some offerings on cable and satellite make C5’s naked, heaving

bodies seem demure by comparison.



Elstein certainly does not deserve the ’Pornographer in Chief’ title the

Daily Mail bestowed on him after the review was published last week.



His best defence is that Channel 5’s original licence application

specifically stated its intention of running uncut movies late at night,

including the sweaty sex scenes routinely left out of TV versions.



But while this was what made the headlines, it was not the only

criticism the ITC made of Channel 5, urging it as well to ’increase the

quality and widen the range of programmes in general’.



Channel 5 responded cheerfully, pointing out that the performance review

carried twice as much praise as criticism, ’which is remarkable for a

channel so soon after its launch’.



In its two-year life, the channel has developed a Teflon-skinned

technique of repelling criticism. It recalls its difficult start-up,

when it had to retune millions of video recorders. It points out that

its signal still reaches only 80 per cent of homes and its programme

budget is about an eighth that of ITV and BBC1. It then presents its

current five per cent share of viewing as little short of a miracle.



This is a perfectly logical line of argument, but it is questionable how

much longer it can survive as a viable PR strategy. The channel’s

programmes are aimed at the mass market, whose viewers tune in if they

think they are going to be better diverted than on any other available

channel - not because they want to marvel at what Elstein can do with

his tiny budget.



Elstein says the channel is only a year away from profitability. That

will be the time to stop making excuses and start a drive to get the

audience share at least into double figures, overhauling Channel 4 and

BBC2.



Only then will Elstein’s channel have grown up - and so, hopefully will

the ITC, which should recognise the world is changing and that, however

stoutly the Daily Mail may resist the notion, a bit of slap and tickle

around midnight never harmed anyone.



Maggie Brown is on holiday.



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