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Channel Five

By The Drum | Administrator

April 10, 2002 | 5 min read

Channel 5's decision to locate its northern sales office in Leeds in 1997 came as a bigger surprise than Robbie Fowler's decision to leave Liverpool and move to Leeds last year. But perhaps an even bigger surprise is that Channel 5 has just celebrated its fifth birthday despite many 'media experts' saying it wouldn't last one year.

Add to this the fact that Channel 5 toasted its fifth year on the back of its best month for viewing figures ever and it signifies that even in light of the digital revolution Channel 5 is here and here to stay.

Regional sales controller Geoff France believes that despite past jibes (and nicknames such as Channel Filth) the channel is set to continue its upward spiral in a marketplace spiralling downward.

"Our fifth birthday coincides with a real purple patch for us," says France. "February was our best ever month since launch; we got 6.7 per cent share of viewing compared to 5.5 per cent in 2001, so it has all come to fruition at a timely point. We are bucking the downward sales trend at the moment because so far this year we are up 4 per cent."

In the last five years France and his team of three have chalked up £45m in sales and signed ten sponsorship deals with advertisers such as Autowindscreens, Yahoo and now the RAC. In fact, Autowindscreens' weather sponsorship was the first signed and is only just coming to an end, though France says there are three advertisers poised to take up the deal.

So, what is France, and the channel which gave us a naked Keith Chegwin, now doing right?

"Last year when we started showing Home and Away it was a real leg up," says France. "Sales really started to kick in and fortunately haven't stopped since. Then we got CSI, which is one of the biggest shows in the US, and on the back of that we got Law and Order. We always needed a big one and Home and Away was it."

But while things may be purple for France and Co at the moment it wasn't quite so black and white in the early days for his sales team.

He says: "Nobody really had a clue what we were about at first. We didn't even have a programme tape to show people. Before launch we were just saying that Channel 5 is going to be a bit of this and that, so it was a real leap of faith by advertisers to come with us.

"The first deal I did was with Foxes Biscuits. It was for about £250,000. That was the first time an advertiser had shown any belief in what we were saying. I remember walking out of that meeting thinking 'we can make this work.'"

France admits that perceptions of Channel 5 have been, and may still be, a little out of focus, but he says that new programming chief Kevin Lygo is set to change all of that.

"The perception of Channel 5 is that it is all movies and football," says France. "I suppose in the early days it was, but now, with proven hits like Home and Away, CSI, which regularly gets 3.2 million viewers, and Law and Order, plus other exciting stuff coming through the system with Kevin on board, there is a real sea change going on.

"On 8 April we've got the new Top Gear programme starting. It has been repackaged and will be called Fifth Gear, but it will have the same team of presenters. We love opportunities like that, where we can go in and pick up an ailing programme and give it a new lease of life and we are always in like a shot. Because we are still relatively small we can be very fleet of foot."

As a sales outfit, France and his team are keen to put past perceptions behind them and look to even better times ahead as the channel continues to mature and evolve.

"There's a feeling in the company that the channel has matured and there's a buzz around the place. Kevin Lygo has brought in three of his team from Channel 4 and they are going to keep the successful things like movies, football, lifestyle/leisure stuff and things like Home and Away, CSI and Law and Order and add to that.

"Kevin is looking to introduce some breakthrough programming like he did at Channel 4 and that will start coming through in the Autumn. There will be no more Fort Boyard, Greed or It's A Knockout, we have moved on and evolved. People now know Channel 5 is easy entertainment."

So, was Leeds a bad decision? It seems not.

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