Desmond bids to capture Top of the Pops
Tuesday 28 December 2010
It is the formerly much-loved music show that the BBC now only dusts off for special occasions. But the Corporation has vowed to block an audacious bid by the media magnate Richard Desmond to relaunch Top of the Pops on Channel 5.
This year's BBC1 Christmas Day special is expected to be the last outing for the weekly chart show, which was shelved in 2006 after 42 years.
Mr Desmond, who bought Channel 5 for £103.5m in July, believes that a revived Top of the Pops could become a live, primetime, entertainment hit.
The publisher, whose Northern & Shell company owns the Daily Express and Star titles as well as OK!, is a big rock fan, a drummer, and a friend of The Who singer Roger Daltrey.
Mr Desmond, who also owns a number of lucrative satellite pornography channels, has vowed to invest £300m in Channel 5's programming, and promised big-name acquisitions. He is said to be willing to offer a "substantial sum" for the rights to Top of the Pops.
Sources declined to elaborate on why the BBC would refuse to sell Top of the Pops to Mr Desmond. However, BBC Worldwide, which owns the brand, said that it would not enter into negotiations with him. Paul Dempsey, who oversees BBC Worldwide's Audio & Music division and is the "guardian" of Top of the Pops, said: "I don't think we would lead that discussion, from a BBC perspective. It's a brand that is very precious to the BBC and they have got no intention of it being in anyone else's hands."
Top of the Pops' viewing figures fell from 15 million in its mid-1970s heyday to 1 million, and Mr Dempsey said that the download generation requires a different sort of show.
"Audiences had fallen to quite low levels. The younger generation expects music in a different way," he said. "It's difficult because from the outside it does look like there's an obvious opportunity. But there are reasons why it's no longer on our screens."
The BBC is under pressure to "use or lose" the show. The annual New Year's Eve special has been scrapped this year and BBC insiders want to replace the Christmas Day show with a new music show. But the Top of the Pops Christmas Day special, featuring Coldplay, was seen by 4 million viewers, showing continuing affection.
The BBC has asked record companies to help it create a new regular show, described as a "Top Gear for music". The show would feature video exclusives and artist interviews and could run on BBC Three, the youth channel.
Mr Dempsey described Top of the Pops as "resting... It's certainly a brand that has a lot of consumer affection and I think at the right time we'd be hopeful of finding some opportunity for that brand. It's about timing".
The greatest effect of Mr Desmond's arrival at Channel 5 so far has been major cost-cutting, resulting in a raft of executives leaving. Now that the broadcaster has returned to operating at a profit, its owner says he is ready to "go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the TV world". Mr Desmond has also set his sights on Coronation Street as a possible target. But negotiations to relaunch Big Brother on Channel 5 stalled when agreement could not be reached with producers Endemol.
If Desmond cannot buy the Top of the Pops brand he will acquire classic episodes from its archive. Channel 5 screened the 1985 Christmas Top of the Pops, starring Slade, on Boxing Day.
Simon Cowell has announced that he is also working on a new, Saturday night music show for ITV, putting greater pressure on the BBC to come up with a new format.
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