MEDIA: Elstein’s Channel 5 defection spells new danger for rivals

David Elstein’s move from BSkyB to the infant Channel 5 is one of those bold leaps which command attention. His swift change of allegiance genuinely makes a difference to Britain’s media industry at a time of dizzying change.

David Elstein’s move from BSkyB to the infant Channel 5 is one of those

bold leaps which command attention. His swift change of allegiance

genuinely makes a difference to Britain’s media industry at a time of

dizzying change.



First of all, his loss will be sorely felt at the satellite broadcaster,

now increasingly recognised as the dominant financial force in UK

broadcasting. In three short years, Elstein had become the publicly

acceptable face of BSkyB, always ready to press Rupert Murdoch’s case,

in public and private, with beguiling charm and devastating

intelligence.



BSkyB has lost, not just a director of programmes, but a superb

apologist and there is nobody else in the company - where Antipodean

bluntness rules - to take his place. I have watched him in action at

dozens of influential events, most recently at the Edinburgh TV

Festival. In a series of dazzling displays, he was both able to raise

profound questions about John Birt’s plans to merge television and radio

and put Michael Grade on the spot over his misguided Channel 4 campaign,

while single-handedly holding up BSkyB’s position as a gutsy operator!



His debating skills have been invaluable to a company still testing the

boundaries of regulation: earlier this year he helped neutralise the

potential outcry over BSkyB’s ability to buy up key sports events in the

early stages of the Broadcasting Bill. These skills are already being

harnessed by Channel 5 as it argues with Government for more

broadcasting spectrum.



Elstein’s track record as programme director of BSkyB is harder to

evaluate because the broadcaster plays by very different rules to

everyone else. It is true he spotted the potential of the X-Files but

the series was made ‘in-house’ for Murdoch’s Fox Television.



But the former current affairs producer who rose to director of

programmes at Thames TV - and helped devise two failed applications for

Channel 5 - is the only top British talent brave enough to have dared to

gain experience of satellite and purely commercial stripped schedule TV

and this range may well prove the clinching factor in the months ahead.

For Elstein has learned how to spend a modest programme budget in a

purely rational manner, to maximise certain kinds of audiences at

certain points of the day. At Channel 5 he is best placed of all the

terrestrial broadcasters to devise deals over shared programme rights

with satellite, to spread costs - a reality which Channel 4 and ITV have

been slow to recognise.



Elstein’s transfer is certainly worrying the opposition, principally

ITV. They know he is the executive best equipped to make it work as fast

as possible. And that he will bring his intellect to bear on the flaws,

even if it means recognising that retuning problems could mean the

launch is delayed.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in