The Daily Mail and General Trust-owned cable TV station Channel One has
had its detractors since it launched less than two years ago. Its
managing director Julian Aston faced a number of them at a Royal
Television Society dinner last week.
Industry stalwarts questioned the channel’s ability to produce quality
programmes on shoe string budgets and suggested the quality of
journalism could never hope to compete with longer established, better-
resourced channels. The slight grin on Aston’s face made it clear none
of the jibes were new.
Aston, 51, is well placed to answer his critics - he has come from the
same breeding ground as most of them and now provides a poaching ground
for his larger rivals. He started as a floor assistant at the BBC in the
1960s and spent 15 years as a documentary producer/director with the BBC
and ITV. In 1984 he developed and launched satellite programme services,
including Music Box and Premiere, for Thorn EMI’s cable and satellite
division. In 1988 he formed New Era Television - a consortium with
Associated Newspapers and Yorkshire TV to supply programming to BSB’s
He led the successful bid for Teletext as MD. In November 1993, he
headed Associated Newspapers’ bid to launch Channel One and was
appointed managing director a month later.
In his speech to the RTS, Aston claimed that Channel One is now watched
by almost as many people as Sky, and more than NBC Super Channel or CNN.
Taking a swipe at industry practices that he said had made TV production
a ‘black art’, he commented: ‘Our industry has been restrained and
constricted by medieval attitudes, with long apprenticeships, and a
range of demarcation lines which ensured that the maximum number of
people were employed for the longest period of time. But new channels
mean a new approach, you have to think differently.’
And hitting back at claims of poor production standards in cable TV,
Aston added: ‘Although Channel One is exclusively on cable, you will
notice that it is neither wobbly, out of focus, or sub-standard in any
He said he was not trying to compete with the news services offered by
mainstream terrestrial channels but was providing the ‘Cinderella’ of
British broadcasting - local news. And so convinced is he of the quality
of his programmes that he has issued a challenge to his rivals: pass a
programme commission to Channel One and it will produce it at half its
given budget, with a money back guarantee if it fails to satisfy.
The lower costs at Channel One are possible because of its use of video
journalists who shoot their own material. Daily output consists of one
hour ‘wheels’. The first half is devoted to news, weather, travel
reports and sports news while the second half consists of 30-minute
programmes covering fashion, motoring, entertainment and listings. Each
wheel can be repeated, wth amendments, throughout the day.
The channel has already been launched in Bristol with Liverpool and
Wolverhampton following later this year. According to Aston, all major
conurbations will have a Channel One by the end of 1998.
1984 Developed and launched satellite programme services Thorn EMI
1988 Managing director New Era Television
19?? Managing director, Teletext
1993 Managing director, Channel One