Channel U beats 8 in boffo birthday treat

B'caster drops 'noncompetitive' policy, to take on competish

SINGAPORE — Execs at tyro broadcaster SPH MediaWorks celebrated web’s first anniversary May 6 with good news — its Chinese-lingo Channel U grabbed 59% of auds that day, beating incumbent MediaCorp’s Channel 8.

“This is the best birthday present from our Singapore audience!” enthuses chief operating officer Man Shu Sum.

It’s the high point of a year with more than its fair share of lows. MediaWorks had aimed to change viewing habits by providing more local content on its English-lingo Channel i, instead of the largely American fare on its rival.

But auds switched off in droves. Channel i, then known as TV Works, was forced to can its 90-minute nightly “Big Buffet” local magazine show and air U.S. movies instead.

MediaWorks also ditched its “noncompetitive” policy, its Channel U going head to head on skedding against rival Channel 8. “So many years of noncompetition means audiences are very much used to variety at 7 p.m., drama at 8 p.m. and so on,” says CEO Lee Cheok Yew.

First cuts

Launching in an already slowing economy was hardly a great start, with no one suspecting things would get far worse before the year was out.

Severe financial cut-backs saw 100 staff pinkslipped — over a quarter of the work force — and the two channels brought together under Man.

But using the synergies between its two channels — including pooling resources, coordinating branding and promotional efforts and combining advertising sales with parent print giant Singapore Press Holdings — bodes better for the year ahead.

As Man puts it, “While the first year was crucial, the second is critical, and it’ll be a case of live or die. Channel U has to be the No. 1 in Singapore.”

And if last week’s figures are anything to go by, it just might get there.