Not yet a flop but Channel 5 needs to find its feet

’We’ve only been running three weeks but I’m a bit short of showbiz gossip,’ joked Channel 5’s late night chat show host Jack Docherty uneasily.

’We’ve only been running three weeks but I’m a bit short of showbiz

gossip,’ joked Channel 5’s late night chat show host Jack Docherty


Now the first BARB ratings for the channel have been published, Docherty

- who is doing a reasonable job - might add that some extra viewers

would be very welcome too. Early ratings have to be treated carefully,

especially when they coincide with a bank holiday, a General Election

and a barrage of spoilers from ITV.

But the first week shows that Channel 5 attracted a 3.5 per cent viewing

share, somewhat below its initial target of five per cent. More

ominously, estimates for the second week suggest audiences fell back to

around 2.5 per cent and that whole tranches of its output - 6.30pm to

9pm for instance - are not working very well. This explains the distinct

lack of panic about its impact among rivals. News at Ten is probably

safe until Channel 5 sorts itself out, although ITV is vulnerable.

Despite a fine marketing campaign and a technologically flawless start,

Channel 5’s birth has, in truth, been tough. It is not a flop, but I’m

sure an autumn relaunch, boosted by some canny US imports to replace dud

home-grown strands, must be on the cards. The question is whether

Channel 5 can justly apportion most blame to poor reception/retuning, or

the programmes and schedules themselves? Channel 5 investors suspect

that probably no more than one in two households are currently receiving

their signal, compared with the final goal of 80 per cent. So the

comforting news from the figures, therefore, is that Channel 5 ’reached’

some 36 per cent of the audience during week one. A high proportion of

those with reception are curious about it. Its audience so far is nearer

to a typical cable and satellite viewer than ITV’s: younger, with a male

bias but, alas, downmarket.

However, I am struck by how little public debate about its programmes

there has been, apart from the novelty of the 8.30pm news with Channel

5’s one genuine star, Kirsty Young. There has been no PR buzz, nothing

controversial or different about its ouput - indeed its signature

nightly soap Family Affairs (best aggregated viewers just below one

million) is a great disappointment. Without that buzz, will people with

poor reception rush to sort it out?

The only serious weapon so far is the 9pm nightly movie. Its ratings

performance revolves around the slot. But audiences are volatile - 2.8

million for Mrs Doubtfire, half a million for The Dresser in the same

spot one week later. This doesn’t build the regular consistent audience

so appealing to advertisers.

I know, Channel 4 wasn’t built in a week, what really matters is where

Channel 5 settles down in a year from now. But is the press right to

give its listings equal status alongside the big four?

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