C5 needs to offer alternative culture

Channel 5 must quickly establish a clear brand identity to differentiate itself from the other terrestrial channels. But with limited budgets it faces a massive marketing challenge to attract viewers.

Brand identity and effective marketing communication will be pivotal to the success of Channel 5. And there are just nine months to crack it. For despite the judicial review earlier this year, the channel remains on course to launch on January 1, 1997.

New marketing director David Brook faces quite a task. Not only must he oversee the creation of a new brand from scratch, he must establish public trust and confidence in C5 months before its launch when a 5,000-strong team of “retuners” will be ready to enter an estimated 9.5 million homes that might suffer TV interference from its signal.

Then there’s the launch campaign and marketing and promotion thereafter, to ensure the new national terrestrial commercial TV channel achieves audiences sufficient to exceed current predictions that it will take up to 165m in advertising revenue by 1997. Brook will also be in charge of all onscreen promotions and presentations.

He joins as one of four executive directors reporting to chief executive Ian Ritchie. He will work closely with sales director Nick Milligan and director of programmes Dawn Airey, who have already started work on the channel’ s schedule and positioning.

“We felt it was important to have a marketing director as one of the top five members of the team,” Ritchie explains. Since winning the licence, Channel 5 Broadcasting has restructured – moving away from a traditional ITV structure with sales distanced from programming, and marketing floating somewhere in between (if at all).

“The interrelation of marketing, programming and sales has to be extremely close – together, they will determine the channel’s strategy,” Ritchie adds. “One of the greatest advantages of Brook’s position at The Guardian was his good relationship with the journalists. We want that here with marketing working closely with programming.”

Ritchie is understandably unwilling to commit to a schedule of events before Brook takes up his post. However, establishing a marketing strategy and channel positioning, ap- pointing a design consultancy to create the logo and an advertising agency to handle pre-launch and launch campaigns will be priorities.

C5 will have to work hard to position itself as an alternative to existing terrestrial players. By comparison with ITV, its programme budget is modest – about 110m has been allocated for year one. This means it will not be bidding for major sports events and Hollywood blockbusters.

Instead, the emphasis will be on lesser known sports, for example – perhaps those not yet prominent on TV. And it will concentrate resources on creating a schedule that offers a real alternative to existing terrestrial services.

Early indications are that C5 will have a stripped schedule with the same programmes or programme genres at the same time each day. It will compete by offering alternatives when the opposition is at its strongest: such as carrying a “soap” or daily quiz show when others schedule early evening news. The channel aims to position itself as younger than ITV.

Commissioning is now underway. Airey is committed to buying in every programme, most will come through long-term bulk contract deals with about 30 independent producers. Sixty per cent will be original commissions. Other output will make use of the production and archive strengths of Channel 5 Broadcasting’s backers which include Thames TV parent Pearson, and MAI which owns regional ITV licences Meridian and Anglia.

Communicating exactly what makes C5 different will be critical to its success. “Describing and identifying where we sit in the market is extraordinarily important,” Ritchie says. “We don’t want to be seen as a traditional broadcaster.” Given its limited budgets, C5 must make its mark through astute positioning and a clearly identifiable unique selling proposition: an appealing, mass-market alternative.

With the background of its sales and marketing executives – satellite TV sales and national newspapers – it is likely to adopt an unconventional terrestrial TV approach to marketing and branding. ITV and Channel 4 have already made inroads in joint on-pack and point-of-sale promotions, viewers scratchcards and added-value offers. Expect all of this, and more.

In the light of increased competition for programming and the trend towards licensing the same programme to different broadcasters for a specific “window” – or fixed period of time, all broadcasters now need to position themselves as having brand values over and above the flagship programmes they show.

“Branding will be critical at launch for C5,” Incorporated Society of British Advertisers director general John Hooper observes. “Viewers must be clear from the start just what kind of a channel C5 is.”

Unlike Procter & Gamble’s product-led approach, Hooper suggests Heinz’ corporate branding as a possible model. “You rarely see P&G, instead it’s Daz, Fairy or Camay. But it’ s Heinz beans, Heinz soups – that must be the way to go for C5, in the early days at least.”

C5 has the full backing of the advertising industry which for many years has petitioned for a fifth national channel to increase available commercial airtime and enable tougher negotiations with C4 and ITV. But C5 should beware of taking advertiser support for granted, warns NatWest Bank marketing director Raoul Pinnell.

“It’s critical C5 develops a clear proposition – at the moment it’s in danger of being seen as ‘another terrestrial channel’. It needs a clear value – to viewers and advertisers.”

He adds: “Another all-purpose general channel without a clearly defined proposition sounds a bit lukewarm to me.”

As a result, Milligan’s team is expected to prioritise advertiser communication – a move unprecedented in UK terrestrial TV. Which is likely to lead to co-operation between the broadcaster and third-party brands in joint marketing and promotional initiatives in the run-up to launch.

“A key decision must be where C5 will get business from,” Hooper observers. Advertisers inevitably hope this will be from the BBC. “We would like to see a scheduling and marketing strategy specifically targeting BBC1.”

With limited programme budgets, it will be essential to establish a distinctive “C5 style”, Hooper adds. With ITV increasingly investing in quality drama, and BBC1 moving to traditional ITV mass entertainment fare, perhaps popular entertainment is the right route.

The first phase of the channel’s marketing campaign is expected to take place later next month when the first advertiser and agency presentations take place.

Consumers will have to be prepared if they are to be expected to allow retuners into their homes. However, once in – the C5 representative will have a golden opportunity to reinforce the consumer marketing message. Because of this, it is possible the channel will wait until quite near its launch to ensure its human face remains uppermost in the public’s mind. A multimedia advertising campaign could then build on this.

An inevitable complication is likely to be the spoiling tactics of other broadcasters. Sources suggest ITV is planning a 7m advertising campaign to coincide with the run-up to C5’s launch; C4 is understood to be setting aside 4m. It promises to be an unprecedented marketing battle for terrestrial TV viewing.

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