LONDON — With the surprise ouster of program chief Dan Chambers, flagging U.K. terrestrial web Five is left waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Unless the channel can stop the ratings rout and start to deliver real value to its owner, pan-European TV giant RTL, more bloodletting may be in the cards.
One thing is sure: when Chambers, the station’s much-liked program director, was hauled before CEO Jane Lighting Oct. 30 to be told he no longer had a job, a tremor went through Five’s West London HQ.
One program maker says, “I wonder if the wrong person hasn’t been fired.”
He thinks Lighting should have been held responsible for what several leading U.K. industry figures regard as a lack of clear direction and identity at Five, the youngest of Blighty’s five terrestrials.
In October, year-on-year ratings were down roughly 12% to an all-hours aud share of 5.6%, making the youngest of Blighty’s five terrestrials also the least watched.
“Everyone talks about ITV being the problem child of British TV, but no one seems to have noticed that Five is in an even worse state,” says an ex-ITV program topper.
A commissioning freeze is in place following investment in two new digital webs, Five US and Five Life, and uncertain revenue prospects due to a weak advertising market.
Five’s schedule is deeply reliant on the “CSI” franchise. “If Five lost ‘CSI’ their ratings would collapse,” says a British webhead.
This is probably overstating the case. The web has won approval for both “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” — despite “Friends” spinoff “Joey” having been an expensive mistake.
Direction certainly wasn’t lacking when Five launched in 1997 with a schedule filled with “films, football” and a third, more graphic, F-word, as then-programming topper Dawn Airey famously put it.
Since then, the channel has suffered some schizophrenic programming in its attempt to move upscale.
Auds for art show “Highlights of the Modern Tate” were never likely to stay tuned for the more populist “Make Me a Supermodel” that followed it.
Now, Lighting and her new right-hand woman, Lisa Opie, the ex-Flextech topper who was announced as managing director of content (a newly created position) on the day of Chambers’ ankling, have a tough task before them.
Opie, a former colleague of Lighting’s, is a multichannel expert rather than a terrestrial player, so it remains to be seen if she can help nurture successful, brand-defining shows.
Lighting seemed to have no doubts, releasing a statement saying, “Dan has done a good job at Five and has been a wonderful colleague — however, we now need a creative director with the skills and expertise to run a portfolio of channels. I worked with Lisa during my time at Flextech, and I know that she has the expertise and ability to take Five into the next phase of its digital strategy and to develop our content strategy across all platforms.”
Ten years old next March, Five still lacks a single breakout hit.
This despite flirting with soft porn, stripped feature films, shock docs, arts and culture — and not forgetting a sitcom set in a brothel, “Respectable,” almost certain to be axed after the first season because of poor ratings.
There is speculation Five may move further still in the direction of acquired programming and try to snatch rights to “Heroes,” a hit for the Sci Fi channel in the U.K. — or even nab Australian soap “Neighbours” from the BBC.
But with a program budget of approximately £200 million ($360 million) — less than half rival web Channel 4’s annual spend — Five’s pockets are not deep, although there are benefits derived from being owned by RTL that can be leveraged on licensing deals.