Viacom Chief Vows to Beef Up Channel 5, Expand U.K. Presence with Spike TV Launch

LONDON — Viacom is set to launch Spike TV in the U.K. as part of its strategy to beef up its British presence following the purchase of terrestrial network Channel 5.

Spike will arrive in Blighty next spring in what will mark the first rollout of the channel outside the U.S.

“This launch has been made possible by our recent acquisition of Channel 5, which gives us ownership of a pipeline of quality factual content,” said Viacom president-CEO Philippe Dauman.

Spike’s U.K. schedule will combine repeats of Channel 5 shows alongside U.S. content. The move is another example of the synergies Viacom hopes to achieve in Britain in the wake of buying a U.K. free-to-air terrestrial network.

Viacom paid $725 for C5 in May amid bidding from other U.S. media groups including Discovery and NBCUniversal.

Asked Wednesday at a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast why Viacom bought the broadcaster this year when it could have paid a lot less for it in 2010 Dauman replied: “I always look forward, I don’t look back. We study opportunities and look at various possibilities.”

The Viacom chief stressed how “excited” he was by the ownership of C5 and how it and channels such as MTV, Comedy Central and, especially Nickelodeon would develop partnerships with the British net. He promised a bigger program budget for C5 but declined to be specific.

Viacom is determined to shift C5’s audience target to a younger demographic, he said. Reality juggernaut “Big Brother” is one of C5’s biggest shows.

But Dauman implied the network is not dependent on the program because of Viacom’s status as a content powerhouse.

The exec said C5 and its sister channels would make it a priority to provide their content and services via mobile devices, cross promote C5 on pay nets and vice versa. As Viacom does in the States, Dauman said there is extra coin to be made from licensing consumer products aimed at tykes; C5 at present runs tyke block “Milkshake.”
One of the attractions of buying C5 – the firm’s biggest acquisition since Dauman was tapped as Viacom CEO eight years ago – was as a free-to-air network it enjoys 100% reach in the U.K. Cable channels like MTV are only available to around half of U.K. homes.

The British government and much of the local media community have welcomed Viacom’s new status as the owner of a U.K. free-to-air channel.

However, rival broadcaster Channel 4 recently warned that Britain’s strong tradition of public service television risked being undermined by moves like Viacom’s ownership of C5.

“We’ve been here (in the U.K.) almost as long as Channel 4,” Dauman observed, noting that MTV launched in London in 1987.

“We recognize our responsibilities as a broadcaster and are happy to broadcast news and (other) public service categories. As a company we are very public service oriented. We can be a force for positive change,” Dauman said. “It is not about cost cutting, it is about growing the business…We are going to own Channel 5 forever.”

Asked if he thought C5 could overtake C4 in the ratings Dauman was unequivocal: “That’s the first step…We do not put any boundaries on our ambition.”

While Viacom said it intends to continue investing significantly in the U.K. Dauman ruled out buying ITV, the market’s biggest free-to-air network, which is seen as a prime takeover target for a U.S. media giant. He also suggested acquiring local producers was not in the cards for Viacom.

“We don’t want any distractions,” he said. “Viacom has enough scale in the U.K.”

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