The task of launching Channel 5 successfully is viewed by everyone
working in the media as one of extreme difficulty. This is because it
depends on getting two things right by launch date 1 January, 1997.
First, there is the challenge of devising the schedule and holding the
producers to their promises of delivering cheery popular programmes.
Second, and most dauntingly, there is the need to make sure 90 per cent
of ten million homes in the problematic urban reception areas have been
visited by engineers, to have their video recorders checked over, by
launch time. If not, the Independent Television Commission will veto the
Yes, by any realistic standard, these are tough hurdles. At last week’s
unveiling of the retuning programme the company’s top managers were
frank about the challenges: after all one of the directors Greg Dyke,
famously dubbed the Channel 5 retuning programme as a ‘burglar’s
charter’. And ITV has already conducted a damning survey into the
apparently poor showing of a pilot retuning exercise.
But just because something is difficult does not mean failure. Frankly,
I find the general tone of negativity about the new channel depressingly
and typically British.
So here is the positive case. Channel 5 has assembled a gutsy team.
Programme director Dawn Airey is a dynamic operator, and has attracted
real professionals. Even rivals with a desperate interest in shooting
down Channel 5 agree.
Secondly, it is commissioning only from tried and tested independents.
As far as programmes go, this is not going to be a bumbling British
Satellite Broadcasting or even Channel 4 launch.
On the retuning front it is a little known fact that Price Waterhouse
consultants devised a plan for the first unsuccessful bidders four years
ago, and tested it out on the streets of Harrow. They concluded that the
system of sending engineers to visit and revisit roads until completion
worked surprisingly well. That it was not that hard to gain admittance.
True, most people are out all day or are only around at weekends. The
retuners are not daft: they know this too.
What worries me is the quality of Channel 5’s marketing. Those with
experience of duff cable companies know how hopeless some of that
sector’s sales staff are. Will the retuners really be able to turn their
visit into a marketing opportunity and spread the good news of a new
free channel, while quietly making sure the family TV set can pick up
Finally, I hope that should the retuning need a month or so extra time,
Channel 5 will admit it and the ITC will be understanding. Better to
lose a bit of face, and not squander - as BSB did when its squarials
failed to materialise - the precious launch advertising budget.