Channel 5 marketing chief David Brook has switched to Channel 4 just as viewers have started moving in the opposite direction. While that is a simplification, the irony has not been lost on TV industry watchers.
The two stations appeal to different audiences and although C5 News has overtaken its C4 counterpart in terms of ratings, Brook has not been hired to tell C4 how to make television programmes. His move can be explained by a mixture of personal ambition and C4’s need for improved branding in an increasingly competitive environment.
“We are entering a new era of marketing TV channels as brands,” says one observer. “It is about building an emotional bond and loyalty in a sector where it is so easy to change channels. C4 is a strong brand, but has the potential to be stronger. It needs to reassert its brand values.”
That is where Brook, former marketing director at The Guardian, fits in. Last week’s announcement that Brook was leaving his job as director of marketing at C5, to take up the new role as director of development and strategy at C4, is understandable for a man with his ambitions. He replaces the last sales and marketing director, Stewart Butterfield, who left after a boardroom clear-out by chief executive Michael Jackson in July.
Some sources say he is walking away from the straightjacket of tactical promotions involved in the launch of C5, and into a broader, more strategic role at C4 – although marketing is still part of his brief. Ironically, his departure comes just as C5 has started hitting its target of five per cent of the total viewing audience on some occasions.
Brook was responsible for the C5 launch campaign, which started broadcasting on March 30. Arguably, launching the station was easier than maintaining its position. It has already had to invest heavily in football, something it had not planned, to boost figures.
His departure after 18 months in the post, and before C5 has proved its credibility, seems hasty. But as one associate says: “He has more affinity to C4, it’s more his kind of culture. He has aspirations – he doesn’t only want to do marketing, he wants to get into programming.”
The C4 job could meet Brook’s aspirations. He will take charge of Channel 4B, the digital channel that it will launch next year concentrating on films and sport. Brook will also look at extending the C4 brand beyond books and videos, with observers saying he is likely to build up the channel’s spin-off magazines to compete with BBC publications.
More importantly, Brook will look at the whole of C4’s branding. TV stations are heading towards a new era where brand values will become increasingly important. That was signalled most recently when ITV hired Procter & Gamble executive John Hardie to spearhead its own much-needed branding drive.
Faced with increasing numbers of satellite and cable channels, the birth of digital TV and competition from C5, loyalty among consumers will be crucial for all stations.
C4 has seen its share of audience gradually chipped away over the past few years, falling from 11.1 per cent in the first quarter of 1994 to 10.6 per cent for the third quarter in 1997. But it has held this share steady over the past two years. The task at hand is to reverse the trend.
C4 has strong brand values, and appeals to young, upmarket, “light” viewers. But cracks have started appearing, with Sky winning the rights to first showings of C4’s top shows Friends and ER. C4 will be putting more money into drama, and cutting the number of foreign imports in its programming.
Brook’s appointment will have sent shivers through C4’s long-standing advertising agency BMP 4. Many advertising bosses expect Brook to call a review of the 6m account. When Brook joined The Guardian in 1990 as marketing director, the then BMP.DDB Needham, which owns BMP 4, resigned the business before he could even announce a review.
So while C4 prepares for a restatement of its brand values, what of Brook’s former employer C5, which is still trying to find some of its own? The launch has been deemed fairly successful – C5 says it is already hitting its target of five per cent of the total national audience with certain programmes, such as sports and films.
According to figures from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, C5 has increased its share of viewing from 2.8 per cent in the second quarter of this year to 3.1 per cent in the third.
Brook’s role at C5 has been to make a little resource go a long way. The station boasts that its strategy of advertising key programmes on the television pages is being copied by ITV. Maybe the whole ethos of a station run on the cheap contributed to Brook’s departure.
Some media buyers say C5 needs to increase the amount it spends on programming from its current level of 110m if it is to secure its position in the coming year. One claims C5 needs to double the sum, though it seems unlikely this will happen.
A spokeswoman boasts that C5 is good at finding ways of promoting itself with limited resources. Brook’s successor, expected to be an external appointment, is due to be announced in the next two weeks.