Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Channel 5

  Channel 5 has welcomed the White Paper with its intention to rationalise broadcasting regulation in a way which recognises the speed of change in our industry. Naturally we agree with the Government's aspiration for the UK to house the most dynamic and competitive communications market in the world and we wholeheartedly endorse the objective of effective but lighter touch regulation.

  Our channel will have completed its fourth year on air at the end of March, in which time we will have exceeded all our audience targets despite an increasingly competitive market. We are a committed public service broadcaster and are well aware of the responsibilities that this entails.

  Our aim is to find new ways of looking at popular access to television. Our documentary, factual and current affairs programmes are straightforward and informative. 5News is full of facts, upbeat in tone and less formal than its main rivals. We are the only terrestrial channel to offer viewers news on the hour seven days a week and our sense of social responsibility is well represented through our educational output. At the same time Channel 5 is expanding into new areas of activity, centred around digital technology and the Internet.


  We welcome the Government's commitment in the White Paper that public service broadcasting will continue to have a key role to play in the digital future. We agree that public service broadcasting remains "the best way we have found of creating a wide range of UK made programmes of the kind people want" and that "mixed schedule networks, free at the point of use, funded through advertising or a licence fee, continue to be the best way of funding the production of mass audience, high quality, varied, UK-originated programmes".

  Under the 1996 Act, the three commercial PSB channels were designated "qualifying services" and given privileged access to the spectrum in order to achieve the widest possible digital coverage for their programmes. Subsequently the Government set, as one of its key tests for determining the switching-off of analogue TV transmissions, that the main free-to-air channels should be received by 99.4 per cent of households. This implicitly assumes that the existing commercial PSBs should continue into the digital age and we support that approach.


  Channel 5 is a committed public service broadcaster, we are well aware of the responsibilities that this entails. Without question we wish to retain our public service broadcaster status into the foreseeable future. We note the Government's proposal (5.6.11) to review all the public service broadcasting requirements on Channel 5, with the aim of "making the channel a far stronger competitor to the other public service broadcasting channels" albeit that, "if the channel changed some of its public service broadcasting obligations, its tender payments would need to reflect this". We welcome the flexibility given to us through this proposal but will need to discuss further with the regulator and with Government the financial and other implications.

  At Channel 5 we are proud of our achievement in launching a successful free-to-air channel in the face of increasing competition. In 2000 we achieved an audience share of viewing of 5.7 per cent despite our analogue coverage of 82 per cent. We are committed to retaining our public service broadcaster status albeit within an overall framework of lighter touch regulation.

  In the key public service genres of: news, current affairs, documentaries, education, arts, children and drama we aim to provide an alternative to the other public service channels. Our own special view of the world provides a point of difference in style and in content to that of the other broadcasters. In peak time our viewers are able to experience a different type of schedule with news on the hour every hour and the certainty of a movie every night. Our sports coverage features live football and also sports such as live motorcycling and ice hockey that are not normally covered by other channels. Late at night we experiment with documentaries, features, adult output, experimental drama and entertainment formats. Increasingly we are finding that as the "new kid on the block" we are the channel that takes the most risks with new production companies, new formats and new talent.

News (required target nine hours per week)

  Our 5News aims to provide an alternative and complementary news service to the existing bulletins on ITV, BBC or Channel 4. In the past three years it has established a different style of news presentation and production with a fresh, direct and less formal approach than that of its main rivals. We remain the only terrestrial channel offering viewers comprehensive hourly news updates in peak time seven days a week.


  Our arts (target—30 minutes per week), current affairs (required target—two hours thirty minutes per week) and documentary output (target—two hours per week) is straightforward and non elitist in approach. Overall we aim to air people's views and opinions and to show how they live their lives in a way that is straightforward and inclusive.

Children (Required target—11 hours 40 minutes per week)

  Channel 5 maintains impressive levels of children's programming—pre-school and teen. We transmit more dedicated pre-school programmes than any other terrestrial channel with twelve and a half hours a week.

Education (target—three hours per week)

  We aim to produce three hours per week of adult education programmes—backed up on and off line with free fact sheets.

Drama (target 12 hours per year ex soaps)

  Channel 5 cannot compete with the budgets of the other terrestrial broadcasters and so aspires to additionality with the aim of being different from the others. As well as the occasional drama event which we will air in the 9pm movie slot the channel has experimented in long running series of half hour drama anthologies late at night.


  Channel 5 supports the Government's intention of retaining the independent production obligations for public service broadcasters (4.3). We further welcome the Government's recognition of the fact that changing production economies for the independent sector should not prevent the broadcaster's ability to be able to meet their obligations.

  In our short history we have given an important boost to the UK production sector by commissioning an additional 4,500 hours a year of originated programmes. In 2000 67 per cent (both in value and in hours) of our commissioned programmes were from the independent sector. Since our launch in 1996 we have commissioned programmes from 250 different independent production companies. We are committed to introducing new talent both on and off air. We have achieved some notable successes with the likes of Kirsty Young and Graham Norton and in several cases we have been able to give independent production companies such as "Sanctuary Films", "Tapestry", "Bullseye", "2:3:5" and "Vascha" their first break on main stream terrestrial television.


  Channel 5 is a national broadcast channel which unlike ITV and the BBC does not have the capacity to opt out for regional programming. We are however committed to the principle of encouraging the development of a healthy regional production industry. This year we have introduced a new commitment to originate 10 per cent of our UK programmes by production spend from outside London.


  Channel Five broadly welcomes the proposed three-tier approach to regulation with the basic tier supporting standards across all services and with further tiers applicable to public service broadcasters. We welcome the intention of the third tier whereby broadcasters will essentially deliver and monitor the more qualitative aspects of their remits through self-regulation and are committed to developing a system (backed up by our own audience research) whereby the Channel 5 programme controllers and our Board can ensure that the remit is being adhered to. We believe that this new framework should prove to be a more flexible way of delivering public service programmes that are relevant to the needs and interests of our viewers.

February 2001

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