Will a Neighbours-led, refreshed 2008 be enough to save Five?

Will a Neighbours-led, refreshed 2008 be enough to save Five??

NeighboursBroadcaster Five is looking to refresh its on-air identity early next year as it seeks to bed in Neighbours, the Australian soap it is poaching from terrestrial rival BBC1.

Five is in talks with a number of advertising agencies about the refresh, although it insists Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest is still its agency of record (MW last week).

Industry observers say Neighbours gives the ten-year-old channel a fighting chance of retaining existing viewers – and recruiting ones – next year, but question Five’s relevance in the long term.

As one broadcast buyer says: “Five might get one more year of grace.” He believes that the channel’s problems, along with its terrestrial rivals’, will be exacerbated by the “Canute-like” wash of digital channels and the rolling programme of digital switchover.

Another insider adds: “Is it going to deliver a different commercial audience that you can’t buy elsewhere? Probably not. Could advertisers choose to live without it? Yes, they probably could.” However, Lisa Opie, the channel’s managing director of content, insists that “any buyer questioning Five’s place in the schedule would have some explaining to do.” 

Observers suggest that, in moving away from the “football, fucking and films” strategy pursued at launch, Five has “no soul and no identity”. A media agency source adds: “It is a channel of copy-cat, me-too programming – it is very difficult to identify what it stands for.” But Opie says the brand stands for being “bold, populist and personal.” 

Into the kangeroo’s pouch?
The broadcaster plans to build its digital service, Five Download, but remains some way behind its rivals Channel 4, the BBC and ITV. The trio are now partners in a planned aggregated service code-named “Kangaroo”. Five says it is also in talks over potential involvement.

Meanwhile, the broadcaster has been hit by some high-profile defections. Jane Scott, the former marketing director, left the business for “time out” and to “pursue other opportunities”, while director of programmes Jay Hunt – in post for a mere three months – has this week been confirmed as the new controller of BBC1.

The point of Five
Opie, who is also responsible for marketing, faces tough times ahead. She must convince advertisers and agencies that there is a point to Five, while also bringing in the must-see programming that will drive viewers to the channel and any on-demand content it provides.

The broadcast buyer says this will mean not relying on a “handful” of hit shows such as House, Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. “It feels too much,” he adds. “What next, CSI:Coventry?” Yet even those underwhelmed by the performance and offering of the terrestrial channel point to the strides made by digital offshoots Five US and Five Life which, crucially, have slots on the Freeview platform.

According to industry sources, Five’s adult impacts are down by 6% so far this year, although they point out that its digital channels “more than make up” for this. Five says spot revenues across the portfolio will be up 8% at around £315m.

Perhaps the jewel in Five’s crown is the universally praised pre-school strand Milkshake, which stands out at a time when children’s TV is under the microscope. But Five must shake things up elsewhere in order to woo both advertisers and viewers as digital switchover continues apace.

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