The making of Dave: How UKTV turned a ‘ridiculous idea’ into an award-winning channel

The Inside Story: Over the past 12 years, UKTV’s Dave has gone from a channel scoring just 2% spontaneous awareness to a media brand attracting 20 million viewers a month.


Dave’s launch identity, devised by creative agency Red Bee.“There was a lot of derision before we launched Dave,” recalls Steve North, genre general manager for comedy and entertainment at UKTV.

Back in 2007, North, then channel director of UKTV G2, remembers the industry being unable to get its head around the idea of calling a TV channel a man’s name.

“I remember overhearing conversations with people at events beforehand saying it was a terrible idea, it was stupid, and then six months later saying ‘God, that’s wonderful. Always said it would work, great idea.’ Bullshit,” he laughs.

North and his team were prepared for the fact not everyone in the industry would get it. After all, UKTV wanted to stand out among a sea of 450 Freeview channels with an idea that went against everything else in the market.

The rebrand from UKTV G2 to Dave in 2007 came about after UKTV brand tracker data revealed a stark disconnect between the original channel’s reach (25%) and its spontaneous awareness (2%). While focus groups recognised the channel’s various shows, they never mentioned UKTV G2 by name.

“We’d keep prodding them on it and they’d say ‘never heard of it, never watched it’ and then we’d show them the reel of the content and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I watch that all the time’, so we knew there was an issue,” explains Dave channel director Luke Hales, then research manager at UKTV.

“The headline for me was there was a lot of data suggesting we had a brilliant channel, but nobody knew we existed.”

I remember at one point we had to pull a journalist from the Sun out of a Ferrari because he’d broken in, which I thought was quite auspicious in a way.

Zoë Clapp, UKTV

The challenge was to create a standout channel brand that would resonate with ABC1 men aged 16 to 34 years, with a core audience in their late 20s to early 30s.

Research on this age group found they had typically either had a baby, got married or bought a house, and as a result were missing the male camaraderie they used to get from their mates down the pub. For them, the channel had to act like a surrogate friend.

Based on this key insight, the rebranding process began in earnest, with the core team of eight people given just six months to create a new channel ready to debut on Freeview on 15 October 2007. The naming process kicked off with the project team asking UKTV colleagues – over slices of pizza – what they would call a comedy channel aimed at 16- to 34-year-old men.

These ‘name-storming’ sessions generated 300 different options, including Comedy Shed, Jam, Monkey, Grrr and Dave. With the latter, the idea was that everyone has a mate called Dave.

“We always liked the idea when Dave came out, but when we had the research showing they see the channel as a surrogate friend, that’s when the penny dropped,” says North.

“We thought, ‘If we really believe viewers see the channel as part of their friendship group, we can give it a name’ and this ridiculous idea doesn’t sound quite so ridiculous.”

READ MORE: ‘We had to make sure it didn’t fall on its arse’ – how Tesco revolutionised loyalty with Clubcard

Dave-UKTV 2007
Dave’s launch identity from 2007 by Red Bee.

Hales road-tested various names with focus groups, admitting that approval for Dave was far from a “slam dunk in research”.

“Normally when you do a focus group you introduce an idea and people go, ‘that’s not bad’ or ‘I don’t really like it’, but we introduced these names and you’d get vehement disagreement and a vocal minority who get behind one of the names and it usually was Dave,” he explains.

“We’d do conflict groups, so you’d give somebody a name like Dave and you’d give someone else a different name like Comedy Shed, and they’d have to argue for that name. What we found with Dave is most of the room came around to their way of thinking.”

Crucially, those who didn’t like the name Dave said they would still watch the channel.

Despite the team believing they had struck upon something great, it took a while to convince UKTV chief executive David Abraham. While he loved the idea of calling the channel a name, it took the wealth of research and insight to convince him – and the shareholders – that Dave was a good idea.

Creative licence

Being a relatively young organisation, happy to cut out the layers of sign-off and focus on ambitious creative ideas, meant the roll-out of Dave powered ahead at full speed.

To publicise the launch, UKTV’s current chief marketing and communications officer, Zoë Clapp, then publicity manager for entertainment and drama, staged a takeover of a classic car club near Old Street roundabout hosted by comedians Sean Lock and Jimmy Carr.

“It was a big, raucous landmark event and it really felt like it landed the tone of the channel well,” she explains.

“It was essentially a big panel show that all the guests got involved in, surrounded by all these amazing cars and I remember at one point we had to pull a journalist from the Sun out of a Ferrari because he’d broken in, which I thought was quite auspicious in a way.”

After the channel went live on 15 October it took a couple of days to realise the launch had actually been a success. Waiting for the first overnight ratings to come in, Hales was horrified to see the number had only risen marginally.

“You know the feeling: the blood left my face, my stomach dropped,” he recalls. “I was on the phone to BARB constantly and they figured out they hadn’t tagged the box to have it measured on Freeview. When we started getting numbers in we realised it was a massive success, but it did take a couple of days.”

On the paid platforms the data showed Dave had nearly doubled its viewing share overnight, which was the first time North realised the true impact a channel brand could have.

Within a month Dave had increased its audience share by 35%. By the three-month mark the channel had added an additional eight million viewers and six months later had delivered £4.5m in profit.

Dave’s signature copy heavy advertising style has evolved for 2019.

After the initial wave of success, Clapp was clear Dave had to continue to evolve, especially as the brand became a victim of its own success by inspiring a slew of imitators.

“It’s the case that you have changed the cultural landscape and you create inspiration for other brands. One of the big things for us is staying one step ahead of that and having all those UKTV originals has massively helped,” says Clapp.

Ramping up its focus on original content, Dave stood steadfastly to its sense of camaraderie, while at the same time keeping pace with the evolution of masculinity over the past 12 years. North explains that while Dave launched as the ‘Home of witty banter’, the word banter has since come to signify a “laddie, macho thing” that the channel has decided to move on from.

“I think when we launched in 2007 it was still at the tail end of that ‘lad culture’ and that is how things were, but we’re so far away from that now,” Clapp adds.

“Humour has much more warmth, it’s much kinder; the idea of banter has really changed. The guys here commission with that in mind and we’re really mindful of that in the way we communicate in terms of our advertising.”

This shift in perspective was signified in November when Dave kicked off year-long partnership with CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably), a leading movement against male suicide.

Clapp believes the Dave tone of voice has successfully evolved to meet the needs of its audience, because instead of being a “highly polished and untouchable” TV brand, it feels like one of your friends. However despite the success, UKTV is keen not to rest on its laurels.

“It’s fair to say that we’re hugely proud, but we’re also always striving for the next thing, we’re never quite satisfied,” Clapp adds. “We will outwardly talk about the things that we’re really proud of, but we’ll spend much more time here in UKTV talking about the things we want to change and progress, and our ambitions for the future.”

Dave’s vital statistics

  • Dave reaches 20 million viewers a month
  • Dave and UKTV stablemate Drama are the top two non-public service broadcasting channels in the UK
  • Audience gender split: 60% male, 40% female
  • Dave scooped several industry awards following its launch including a 2008 IPA Effectiveness Award and a Marketing Society Award for brand revitalisation of the year in 2008.
  • Currently a third of Dave’s peak schedule content is made up of UKTV originals, whereas this was less than 1% in 2008
  • Four of the top five shows on Dave were UKTV originals in 2018. The most popular of them was Taskmaster, which is also the biggest show across the UKTV network. The most recent series attracted an average of 1.5 million viewers per episode.

Meet the key players

Zoë Clapp joined UKTV in 2005 as a publicity manager for entertainment and drama. She progressed to communications director in 2012 and by 2016 she became chief marketing and communications officer, responsible for the marketing, communications, creative, digital and media departments.

Luke Hales worked as research manager at UKTV on the launch of Dave before moving to MTV as a research manager and then joining Viacom in New York as vice-president of strategy research and insights. He returned to UKTV in October 2015 as head of research, before becoming channel director of Dave in October 2017.

Steve North served as channel head during the Dave rebrand and progressed over the intervening 12 years to become genre general manager for comedy and entertainment at UKTV. North orchestrated Dave’s push into original content, which includes scripted comedies such as Zapped and comedy shows including the BAFTA-nominated Taskmaster.

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