Channel 5 ends Sky News contract

U.K. broadcaster seeks more entertainment news

LONDON — Channel 5’s newscasts once made U.K. TV history by breaking with convention. Instead of being deskbound the news anchor stood up and walked the studio floor.

Now 5’s news coverage is hitting the headlines again because the web wants to break its news supply contract with Sky News two years before the agreement ends.

In keeping with the new, hyper-populist agenda favored by 5’s new owner, Richard Desmond, the broadcaster looks set to abandon any suggestion of a serious news agenda and, according to Sky News head John Ryley, “focus increasingly on entertainment news.”

In an internal email to staff, Ryley said: “Sky has told Channel 5 that it is prepared to reach an agreement to end the contract early.”

He stressed that it was not yet clear “what the outcome” of the discussions with Sky News would be, but that “Channel 5 recently informed Sky that they are already putting out to tender the contract to supply news after the current contract with Sky ends in December 2012 — yet the contract still has more than two years to run.”

CNN, U.K. news supplier ITN and local shingle Mentorn are all believed to have been approached by Channel 5 as potential news providers.

Sky has been responsible for producing Channel 5’s newscasts since 2005 in a deal thought to be worth £9 million ($14 million) a year.

Desmond is determined to cut costs at the loss-making web and to forge synergies between Channel 5 and the celebrity-driven agendas of OK! magazine and the Daily Express, also owned by his company Northern & Shell.

Terminating the Sky News contract would almost certainly result in Sky seeking multi-million dollar compensation from Desmond and the possibility of job losses at Sky News.

Earlier this month, ITN’s former CEO Stewart Purvis drew attention to the kind of changes already introduced at Channel 5 by Desmond.

Delivering the Royal Television Society’s Fleming lecture, Purvis said he’d like to say a few words about Channel 5.

“The few words are: ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ ‘Shallow Hal,’ ‘Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies,’ ‘The Aristocats’ and ‘Stand by Me’ — the five movies which took up 5’s entire schedule last Sunday from 2.40 p.m. until 1.00 a.m., only interrupted by a five minute news at 6.00 p.m.

“It’s difficult to get too excited about 5’s contribution to public service broadcasting.”

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