The new American owner of Channel 5 has vowed to overtake Channel 4 in the ratings and claimed its bigger rival’s recent attack on US broadcasters buying up British TV firms was motivated by fear of “competition”.
Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman told the Broadcasting Press Guild that his ambition to overhaul Channel 4 to become the second biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster in Britain was only “the first step”.
Mr Dauman, who completed the purchase of Channel 5 from Richard Desmond for over £450m last month, said: “We think Channel 5 has made great progress over the last few years. It has a long way to go and we will rise up the ranks. I can understand why some people are afraid of the competition — and strong competition.”
He suggested even ITV was in his sights in the ratings war and he is seeking to lower the average age of Channel 5’s viewers. “We do not put bounds on our ambitions,” he said.
Mr Dauman, who met Culture Secretary Sajid Javid this week, said Viacom was “very public service-oriented” and will honour all Channel 5’s public-service obligations such as news, children’s shows and UK-originated programming.
“We are going to own Channel 5 forever,” he added, stressing Viacom’s commitment.
Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham complained in August about “US entities queuing up to buy our producers and now our broadcasters”, arguing Britain’s “special” TV landscape “may wither”.
But Mr Dauman hit back. “We’ve been here almost as long as Channel 4,” he said, noting Viacom launched MTV in the UK in 1987 — five years after Channel 4 was founded.
Viacom, which also owns Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and the Paramount movie studios, now employs 1,100 staff in Britain or one tenth of its global workforce.
Mr Dauman admitted Omnicom, the world’s second biggest advertising group, was still refusing to advertise on Channel 5 in an on-going tussle, but was hopeful after talking in recent days to his “good friend” John Wren, global boss of Omnicom.
Reports have suggested Omnicom has been under pressure to switch ad spend to ITV to meet targets until the end of the year.