MEDIA: Are Branson’s TV plans just Virgin on the ridiculous?

Why does Richard Branson get into such a mess when he tries to expand into the media? It is a question a lot of people are asking after Virgin’s high-profile failure to win the judicial review over the Channel 5 franchise.

Why does Richard Branson get into such a mess when he tries to expand

into the media? It is a question a lot of people are asking after

Virgin’s high-profile failure to win the judicial review over the

Channel 5 franchise.



Indeed, if Branson ever takes time from ballooning, or making

allegations about the conduct of other lottery bidders, he might pause

for a bit of self-examination.



He would seem to be ideally suited to a business run by people with

large personalities and vast resources. Yet after a series of failed TV

initiatives going back ten years, Branson has made only a meagre impact

on television - forays into Super Channel, British Satellite

Broadcasting, ITV and Channel 5 have all come to nought. In contrast,

over the same period, under the same conditions, Michael Green of

Carlton Communications has streaked ruthlessly ahead, to become a

dominant force. Virgin is left with a moderately successful national

rock station.



There is a strange lack of acumen in the way Virgin approaches

television. It seems to be a buccaneer which doesn’t appreciate or

understand the rules of the game it tries to play. British broadcasting

is still a strictly regulated industry run by a semi-civil service-style

body - the Independent Television Commission. You cannot apply for an

ITV licence on a wing and a prayer: it requires detail and application.

You have to lay out serious plans, and hire the right sort of executives

to prepare those plans, who know a regulated industry inside out.



Virgin plays a wonderful PR game, and is brilliant at talking up its

pitch. But it seems oddly inattentive when it comes to the killer

details. One of the most telling incidents about Virgin’s amateurism

came in the last ITV licensing round, when it blithely applied for three

ITV franchises (Thames, TVS and Anglia) with the same single

application, despite the fact that the franchises are vastly different.

It failed the quality hurdles. This was such a basic mistake it amazed

rivals.



When I sat down to read all four bids for Channel 5, prepared by a

different team, I became rapidly aware that Virgin’s cheerful and

uncomplicated stress on entertainment had once again missed vital

points. The ITC had clearly signalled that Channel 5 fell into the

public service division of broadcaster: for example, some serious news

programming was expected. Virgin simply planned hourly bulletins. Virgin

also proposed that their Channel 5 chief executive would also direct the

programmes. He would have to be a superman.



There are conspiracy theorists who think that the ITC has it in for

Branson. Not so. It is a shame that such an original force has been

unable to find a way so far into British broadcasting. But the fault

lies with Virgin.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in