MEDIA: Launching Channel 5, is a big job, but not impossible

The task of launching Channel 5 successfully is viewed by everyone working in the media as one of extreme difficulty. This is because it depends on getting two things right by launch date 1 January, 1997.

The task of launching Channel 5 successfully is viewed by everyone

working in the media as one of extreme difficulty. This is because it

depends on getting two things right by launch date 1 January, 1997.



First, there is the challenge of devising the schedule and holding the

producers to their promises of delivering cheery popular programmes.



Second, and most dauntingly, there is the need to make sure 90 per cent

of ten million homes in the problematic urban reception areas have been

visited by engineers, to have their video recorders checked over, by

launch time. If not, the Independent Television Commission will veto the

start.



Yes, by any realistic standard, these are tough hurdles. At last week’s

unveiling of the retuning programme the company’s top managers were

frank about the challenges: after all one of the directors Greg Dyke,

famously dubbed the Channel 5 retuning programme as a ‘burglar’s

charter’. And ITV has already conducted a damning survey into the

apparently poor showing of a pilot retuning exercise.



But just because something is difficult does not mean failure. Frankly,

I find the general tone of negativity about the new channel depressingly

and typically British.



So here is the positive case. Channel 5 has assembled a gutsy team.

Programme director Dawn Airey is a dynamic operator, and has attracted

real professionals. Even rivals with a desperate interest in shooting

down Channel 5 agree.



Secondly, it is commissioning only from tried and tested independents.

As far as programmes go, this is not going to be a bumbling British

Satellite Broadcasting or even Channel 4 launch.



On the retuning front it is a little known fact that Price Waterhouse

consultants devised a plan for the first unsuccessful bidders four years

ago, and tested it out on the streets of Harrow. They concluded that the

system of sending engineers to visit and revisit roads until completion

worked surprisingly well. That it was not that hard to gain admittance.

True, most people are out all day or are only around at weekends. The

retuners are not daft: they know this too.



What worries me is the quality of Channel 5’s marketing. Those with

experience of duff cable companies know how hopeless some of that

sector’s sales staff are. Will the retuners really be able to turn their

visit into a marketing opportunity and spread the good news of a new

free channel, while quietly making sure the family TV set can pick up

Channel 5?



Finally, I hope that should the retuning need a month or so extra time,

Channel 5 will admit it and the ITC will be understanding. Better to

lose a bit of face, and not squander - as BSB did when its squarials

failed to materialise - the precious launch advertising budget.



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