’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?