Recently in BBC’s The X-Files a serial killer used shattered glass from fortune tellers’ crystal balls to kill and then mutilate his victims, which just goes to show what a dangerous game forecasting is.

Nonetheless it is a game worth playing in order to plan a strategy for the future. So here are a few predictions, in particular the commercial impacts that will be supplied by various channels until 2000.

The optimistic view is that the supply of commercial impacts – or number of times a viewer is exposed to an ad – will increase over the next five years, but by a small amount. Meanwhile, the market in housewife impacts will be two per cent bigger than 1995 in 2000.

Channel 5 is where most of any increase will come from. There will be a lot of tea-leaf reading about C5 this summer, which will reach its height when a draft programme schedule is released. Forecasting will become more precise when it is clearer who will and won’t receive C5 from day one.

Assuming that a large majority of those who can receive it do so early in 1997, then C5 is likely to take close to five per cent of housewife impacts in its first year.

The key to any forecast is how enthusiastically both TV buyers and viewers will embrace the new entity. Combining the positive vibes from the forecasters with the track record of Greg Dyke suggests that C5 could grow to about a ten per cent share of commercial impacts by 2000.

Clearly C5 will have an effect on the other channels. Most pun-dits (including some at ITV) believe ITV will take the biggest hit.

Like all market leaders, the network is more vulnerable to new brands. Perhaps we should be judging ITV on its success at managing its audience decline.

It is difficult not to define 1997 as a pivotal year in TV audience history. Every viewer gained or lost will be significant in determining the speed of channel development.

GMTV and Channel 4 face tough fights – most intense for the breakfast broadcaster. GMTV appears to have little room for manoeuvre. Channel 4, even with extra programming money, will find growth hard after 1996; just holding share might be a major achievement.

Satellite and cable appear to have the luxury of playing with all the aces. Although competition in their own sector will be fierce it will still take place in a growing multi-channel market. This growth could quicken in the short term when the cable industry starts its heavy marketing attack. There is the “threat” that pay-per-view will grow and decrease the commercial impacts available, but it is early days here.

The next five years are going to be fun – and by the way, there’s every chance our forecast will have changed next month. Either that, or some of us will be found lying among the debris of our crystal balls.

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