Media: Channel 5 must beware of post-launch relaxation

It is impossible to know whether Channel 5 will be all right on the night, and pull off a near-perfect launch on Sunday. Pessimists point back to the serious teething problems of BBC 2, Channel 4 and TV-am and suggest it won’t, but I don’t pay them much notice. British TV has moved on a long way since those start ups, and become far more professional.

It is impossible to know whether Channel 5 will be all right

on the night, and pull off a near-perfect launch on Sunday.

Pessimists point back to the serious teething problems of BBC 2,

Channel 4 and TV-am and suggest it won’t, but I don’t pay them

much notice. British TV has moved on a long way since those start

ups, and become far more professional.



But what is obvious as Channel 5 comes under starter’s orders is

that the marketing of the channel as something you might switch

to has been pretty effective in the past couple of weeks: closer

to Classic FM’s assured take-off than Talk Radio’s botched

launch.



I am impressed by the way the listings pages of all the main

newspapers and listing magazines have strategically placed

adverts asking: ’are you ready?’ These are some of the most

thumbed pages to be found anywhere.



The ads make Channel 5 seem part of the mainstream already,

something Sky for all its efforts never quite managed. Buying up

the space the fifth channel will occupy from next week, on the

recast pages, is smart. The current poster blitz has also been,

in the main, eye-catching and fun.



This is the first time that the PR operation of a new channel has

been overseen and controlled by a marketing director: the common

purpose and strategy, everyone working towards the same goal,

seems to have worked well - so far, although there are pitfalls

ahead. The main messages, about a younger, less hidebound news, a

family-based soap, a nightly free movie and the occasional big

sports event, seem to have got through - without the attendant

danger of over-hyping expectations and inviting a savage tabloid

counter-attack. The worst blunder I’ve noticed so far has been

chief executive David Elstein’s thin-skinned attack on the Times

for giving too much news coverage to its reception problems.

Elstein rarely puts a foot wrong - let’s just call it pre-launch

nerves.



None of this has been easy. Channel 5 has basically divided the

launch in two, trying to isolate the retuning issue and negative

publicity associated with it as one campaign, only switching now

to the second current up-beat one, combining programmes and

reminders to switch on. The question to ask is how it will

perform in the longer term. There are plenty of grumbles from top

journalists about the failure of its press office to keep them

informed: of not inviting them to key programme launches or

including them on mailing lists. Nor is it clear whether a

marketing-led approach can adapt to the increasingly vital issue

of promoting individual programmes, post-launch, which can make

all the difference to ratings and channel perception. The signs

on this front are not good. That is a worry for the new phase,

when Channel 5 is on air, from next week. It will need to be

fixed.



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