MEDIA: HEALTH PROGRAMMING - Health issues air across media channels. The Wellbeing Network launched this week, underlining a period of sustained cross-platform growth in health related editorial, says Stephen Armstrong

The Wellbeing Network, a joint venture between Granada and Boots,

launched this week as a health and beauty TV channel on Sky Digital,

ONdigital and online at wellbeing.com. The site also includes WAP

content for mobile phones.



As research shows, it should find a willing market. According to BARB,

the UK's TV audience research body, the number of science and medical

documentaries transmitted on all TV channels increased by 76 per cent

from 1995 to 1998. The gross adult ratings delivered by this category on

all TV channels increased by 43 per cent over the same period.



In print, there were 39 health related consumer titles in 1995,

increasing to 68 titles in 1998. The total circulation for this sector

has grown by 104 per cent since 1995.



This looks set to continue. According to a report by Roper Starch Global

in 1999, 49 per cent of adults in the UK claimed to watch regularly on

TV or listen to on the radio programmes about developments in healthcare

and medicine, compared to 35 per cent of adults as a global average.



The study found that 22 per cent of UK adults would like to see or hear

more news about developments in healthcare and medicine.



For PROs this opportunity is obvious, but to some extent they are taking

things cautiously. 'These channels are very new and to some extent are

settling down,' says Stefi Rucci, account manager at Euro PR Group,

which looks after nutrient and food supplement clients such as Peter

Black Healthcare and Lichtware Pharma.



'We found this with the health websites. Loads of them sprang up and

were influential for a short time then went bust leaving only the BBC,

Reuters and, to some extent, handbag.com as 'must sees'. When planning a

campaign our concerns now are the national newspapers - especially the

Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph - and of course, magazines,' says

Rucci.



'We are finding that part of our demographic is turning to new channels

so we are in the process of making friends and talking to the forward

planners,' she adds.



Wellbeing eventually plans to feed content from the website onto an

interactive version of the channel that is also likely to eventually

sell products. The combination of website and TV suggests Wellbeing

should last longer than the likes of ClickMango but still has its work

cut out to achieve a loyal audience.



GRANADA WELLBEING - Paula Carter



Position: joint managing director



Target audience: all adults



'I was brought over from the BBC by Granada at the end of 1999 to set up

a health channel. I found Boots would be the ideal partner for this

venture, so I wrote to the Boots CEO and linked up with Richard Holmes,

who was heading up their digital future and is now joint MD of the

channel with me.



'The Boots relationship gives us a huge advantage in the digital world.

We're on Sky Digital and ONdigital, which gives us 17 per cent of the

homes in the country, rising to 25 per cent soon. The truth is that you

have to fight to make people aware of yourself as a digital channel and

that's where the power of Boots works for us.



'As of this week we are in all 1,400 Boots stores in the country and

have access to 12 million women with Boots Advantage cards. Research

shows that 75 per cent of all women in the country go into a Boots store

once a month, so you can see the benefit.



'The channel will be live from studios in Leeds during the daytime and

Manchester in the evening. We'll combine pre-recorded clips with experts

in the studio and real-life couples who have, for instance, been trying

for a baby. In the morning the programming will be housewife focused, in

the afternoon it will be more lifestyle and in the evening we will have

our issue of the week, say asthma, from seven until eight.'



DISCOVERY HEALTH - Clare Laycock



Position: director of programmes



Target audience: women aged 25 to 54



'We're available on Sky Digital along with the rest of the Discovery

channels. Health is the only one that targets women, though we have

programming that slants towards men.



'We find that most digital programmes aren't part of planned viewing but

tend to be the result of decisions made while checking the electronic

programme guide and from on-air trails. We are fortunate at the

Discovery Channel in that we can work with our American parent channel,

which has been going for years and has more money than us. This means we

can get into co-production deals that lead to better-funded programmes,

although we usually have to re-voice and re-script stuff for the UK

market.



'Despite some of our serious documentaries, we're not a channel about

being ill, so everything is geared towards maximising health or telling

a good story. That's what helps us pull in young viewers, who tend to

think they are immortal but are interested in beauty or keeping fit.



'The PR industry is prepared to take us seriously because of Discovery's

background in documentary. We're also interested in talking to partners

about programming, but abide by the ITC regulations and aren't in the

business of plugging products from pharmaceutical giants simply because

they have a sophisticated PR machine. Some health PROs are catching up,

but I think it's taking a bit of time.'



CHANNEL HEALTH - Joanne Sawicki



Position: chief executive



Target audience: women aged 25 to 54



'We've been on air since June 2000 and last week upped our hours by

eight a day, so we're now on air from 7am to midnight. I used to head

programme development at BSkyB and came up with the idea for this

channel in 1998 when I was about to have my second baby.



'A lot of the channel is about parenting. I think that's the time when

women become concerned about health. It's an independent channel, and I

think that independence gives us an advantage.



'We've just secured a deal with the NHS where they are giving us pounds

1.2m to make programming for them that we will put out on our

channel.



'The channel is divided into zones - such as the parenting zone in which

Dr Michael Weiss spends a week with a family and reports on their

parenting, or the cooking zone with Jane Clark presenting shows. We've

got the relationship zone with a Jerry Springer-style show.



'Now we've got the later hours, we've introduced a sexual health zone

and are starting a series with Mr Motivator combining Tai Chi, yoga,

kickboxing across five shows ever day.



'I find the pharma companies are well geared up when it comes to PR, but

the mind body and spirit people are more of a mixed bag. Still, I have

great contacts across the board so it's not a problem.'



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