UKTV vies for male appeal

New channel, Dave, is geared towards guys

LONDON — In Blighty, TV channels targeted at guys suffer from a seedy, low-rent reputation — all smutty sex and “boys’ toys” shows big on gadgets and cars.

But there are signs that webs aimed at the elusive 18- to 34-year-old males so desired by advertisers are raising their game in an increasingly crowded field.

“It’s a myth that young men don’t watch TV,” says Celia Taylor, director of programming at Virgin 1, the male-skewed channel that bowed this fall.

“Yes, it’s difficult to get this audience to watch, but if the programming is right, they will tune in.”

Taylor cites the impact of “Crime Invasion: Britain’s New Underworld,” a home-grown Virgin 1 documentary series presented by former BBC foreign correspondent Rageh Omaar that isn’t afraid to push the envelope.

“The show’s got a lot of edge to it. We hope viewers will look at it and say ‘Oh my God, did you see that on TV?’ ” says Taylor.

Programming by itself, however, may not be enough to persuade this highly image-conscious demographic to cancel an evening at the pub to stay indoors for some serious TV time.

UKTV, the platform co-owned by Virgin Media Television and the BBC, last month launched Dave, geared toward guys.

After decades of TV stations naming channels to reflect their corporate identities — BBC1, 2, 3 and 4 — or a specific genre

— Sky Sports, MTV — calling a channel Dave is certainly different.

“A name like Dave enables us to create a strong and noisy personality for the channel that immediately aligns us with our core 16-34 male audience,” says channel head Steven North, somewhat optimistically.

The truth is that Dave is not so much a new offering, as a re-branding exercise (previously the channel was called UKTV G2) like America’s Spike TV, undertaken to ensure that UKTV’s audience can hold firm when potential viewers are as likely to be surfing the web, playing games or fidgeting with their cell phones as watching TV.

As Julia Jordan, UKTV’s executive director business and operations, says: “In a cluttered, environment branding is crucial and Dave offers us a new and innovative way to create audience connections and a commercially desirable channel to maintain our viewing share.”

But why Dave rather than John or even Pete? “Everyone knows a guy called Dave,” reckons Matthew Littleford, UKTV’s controller. “We researched the name very thoroughly. Consumers loved it. It sets us apart. Dave is unusual, it’s funny and it gets a reaction.”

Nuts TV, another male-skewed channel, bowed in September.

Backed by Time Warner and based on British “lad mag” Nuts, the upstart aims to broadcast 20 hours of live TV a week.

So will the new webs win over audiences from Bravo, Sky One and ITV4, all firmly targeted at male viewers?

While Virgin 1’s schedule offers a broad mix of entertainment bolstered by U.S. acquisitions including “Star Trek” and “The Riches,” Dave reruns hit BBC comedies including “Little Britain.”

Nuts is unabashedly pitched at males looking for celebs, cleavage and cars. A regular evening’s viewing on Nuts TV gives auds “Car Cruzin,’ ” “Confessions of a Nuts Girl” and “Tossed Off!”

Time Warner estimates that 6.1 million of the U.K.’s 7.1 million 16- to 34-year-olds have access to cable, satellite and digital TV. This suggests there is a big enough audience to make these male-skewed channels viable.

Can these channels get young male hearts beating fast?

“It is tough, but the prize is very valuable,” says Tess Alps, who runs Thinkbox, an org that aims to persuade advertisers to spend more of their coin on TV. “We should never give up on young men watching TV. There must be something other than sport and comedy that engages them.”

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