Five awaits Ashes glory in second half after revenues fall 35 per cent

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The Independent Online

Channel Five, which shows hit TV series including CSI and Neighbours, saw its earnings sink 35 per cent in the first half, which helped to drag its parent company into the red.

Revenues at the UK broadcaster slumped from €212m (£186m) in the first six months of 2008 to €138m this year, the worst of the parent RTL Group's European media arms.

The poor performance was compounded as Five reported a €19m loss for the first half, as well as a €22m writedown and a restructuring charge of €8m. It blamed the writedowns on lower earnings expectations for some of its new US series.

Five, run by chairman and chief executive Dawn Airey, said one of the main reasons for the "disproportionate" revenue drop was its failure to secure sales agreements with several media agencies in the first three months of the year. It added that trading had now resumed at improved terms.

Five's management came up with a plan to overhaul the business in March, in an attempt to slash costs and boost efficiency. This included cutting 87 staff from its 354-strong workforce.

Parent RTL Group's next worst performers were Mediengruppe in Germany, which suffered an 18.5 per cent fall in revenue, while RTL Nederland was down 16.5 per cent. Group boss Gerhard Zeiler said Five was likely to undergo "some form of consolidation".

RTL has been pushing to merge Five with Channel 4, saying the deal had "industrial logic". C4 has consistently rejected such a merger out of hand.

RTL Group announced yesterday that its revenues had dropped almost a tenth to €2.5bn, while it swung from a €338m profit in the first half of 2008 to a €105m loss in the same period this year.

The group saw "no significant change to the European TV advertising market conditions in the second half of 2009, therefore it has to be expected that the profitability level will be considerably down compared to 2008".

In March, CSI drew its highest drama audience ever at 4.3 million, while the US hit show The Mentalist also started well; its 4.1 million rating made it the channel's biggest overseas debut.

One of Five's successes this year was to secure the lucrative rights package of highlights for the Ashes series, which should help to boost ratings and revenues for the second half.