Magazine article Marketing

C5's Canadian Connection

Magazine article Marketing

C5's Canadian Connection

Article excerpt

Strait-laced Thames TV's link with an eccentric Canadian TV boss may seem a rather unholy alliance -- but it may pay off. Claire Beale went to Toronto to find out why

Toronto's City TV cable channel encapsulates all that is not British television. Here, in this station without studios, the news is read by a roving reporter who ambles around the newsroom. The cameraman is as much a part of the action as the news-makers. Middle age is something that happens to the parents of the staff. City TV is a channel unlike anything you have ever seen -- and it could be heading your way, courtesy of Thames Television.

It's a year since Thames Television, one of the old guard ITV companies, grown fat on the cream of ITV ad revenue, learned that the party was over: from 1993 it would be dispossessed of its licence.

Amid the shock of it all, what was hidden to outsiders was the thought and planning that Thames had already given to a contingency plan should its worst fears be realised.

Thames' immediate rally cry, promising to emerge as the country's leading independent producer, was more than the brave face, knee-jerk reaction it appeared to be. It was the result of a careful analysis of the chances of survival outside the ITV nest. The past year has seen Thames shrewdly sticking its commercial finger into several pies designed to further ambitions as an independent producer. But first Thames must create a table for its wares. "We need to establish a secondary market for Thames' products, and that means going beyond ITV and the BBC," says chief executive Richard Dunn.

Next month Thames and BBC Enterprises launch their joint-venture satellite channel UK Gold as a forum for "golden oldies" from their programme libraries. The channel will offer advertisers the chance to promote their products around quality BBC shows and programmes that have already proved their ratings potential.

However, question marks still surround the role advertising will play when the channel moves to subscription after 1994. Actors union Equity has also withdrawn support for the channel.

Although UK Gold is almost a fait accompli, today Thames is once again waiting for the Independent Television Commission (ITC) to determine its fate -- it has yet to decide whether to award the licence.

Back in July, Thames, under the umbrella of Channel 5 Holdings (C5H) put in the only bid for the UK's fifth terrestrial TV licence. Other bidders were finally deterred by the cost of retuning the nation's video recorders because of the interference from the new signal. Thames estimates a one-off cost of |pounds~75m for retuning, and has only bid |pounds~1000 for the C5 licence. They are convinced that the channel will be much cheaper to run than Carlton's, which bid |pounds~43m for the ITV London weekday licence.

All now depends on the ITC decision. As Dunn is painfully aware, the ITC can let you down. No-one at Thames is taking anything for granted. "When you've been disappointed once, you try hard to steel yourself the next time round," Dunn admits.

Thames Television has a 15% stake in C5H -- the maximum any producer is allowed in a station -- and is "in serious discussions with serious players" in an attempt to find the remaining 85% of its |pounds~150m financing package. Interested parties are believed to include Silvio Berlusconi and Sony. The ideas person behind the bid is Moses Znaimer, on whose Toronto City TV channel the C5 concept will be based and who will have a small equity share.

If C5 fulfills its promise Thames may even decide to sacrifice its independent producer status.

"The more we think about C5, the more it looks like a viable commercial proposition," says Dunn, "and the more attractive a larger stake becomes."

Certainly, what C5H is proposing for the fifth channel promises to shoot new blood into the veins of terrestrial television. This will be a "movies, news and music" station targeting a young, style-conscious audience, says Dunn. …

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