View from City Road: Channel 5 comes into focus

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Channel 5 is back on the agenda, news that seems destined to give a number of chairman of ITV companies sleepless nights. Details are sketchy, but if the backroom boys really have solved the technical details of broadcasting, expect a flurry of interest from potential financial backers.

The only thing wrong with the C5 concept last time, from their point of view, was the enormous cost of re-tuning an entire nation's video recorders to get the concept up and running. Without that cost - or much of it - the enterprise makes a lot of sense.

As Channel 4 has demonstrated so vividly, advertisers like the idea of a national terrestrial non- subscription channel better than they do a number of regionally- based television channels - witness the greater than expected success C4 has had selling its own advertising.

That is understandable. From an advertiser's viewpoint it is a case of one-stop-shopping. Who wants to have to trudge to half-a-dozen or so regional slot-shops when they can go to the hypermarket, after all?

If - and it is a big if - the eventual C5 franchisee, assuming there is one, gets its programming act together, ITV companies will face competition of a very serious sort before the end of 1995. Of course C5 might expand the market - certainly the MAI consortium's opt-out plan for specific cities would open the door to new small advertisers that would not normally want to pay for a regional slot, never mind a national one.

But C5 would undoubtedly compete aggressively with some of the bigger regional stations such as Central, LWT and Carlton. That throws a bigger question mark than ever over the sky-high ratings of the ITV companies.