Channel 5 gets poor reception as viewers vote with off-switch

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The first cracks are appearing in Channel 5's two-month-old launch strategy as it struggles with half its target ratings and a fall in its forecast advertising earnings.

The channel's much publicised "stripped and stranded" schedule - where programmes appear at the same time every night - is being scrapped for one of its flagship programmes, one of its few well-known presenters is distancing himself from his show and its breakfast output is being revamped.

Since its launch in March Channel 5 has been putting highlights of its celebrity gossip show Exclusive on after its 9pm film in order to keep its Jack Docherty chat show "stripped" at the same time every night - 11pm - even when preceding films end early.

Now the channel is dropping the fixed start time for The Jack Docherty Show because of the weakness of the Exclusive show - an acknowledgement, according to an insider, that "it is programmes that make schedules not the other way round".

Exclusive, which is watched by just 150,000 viewers in a peak time slot, is being relaunched - in Channel 5 speak "evolved" - so that its presenter, the Virgin Radio DJ Jono Coleman, does fewer reports. There are also rumours that the other presenter, Jason Roberts, is leaving.

Upset is also expected on the channel's breakfast show where ITN, Channel 5's main news provider, shares production duties with FT TV, which is owned by one of its shareholders, Pearson. FT TV was deemed by programming director Dawn Airey to be too inexperienced to take on the whole show itself but has now seen off ITN and will be running the show itself.

Because it is on while the other channels are weak the breakfast news gets one of the channel's biggest audience shares.

The source of the channel's problems is a weaker-than expected signal which means that only around 50 per cent of the population can even see it rather than the 65 to 70 per cent expected before launch.

This has given the channel a viewing share of around 2.5 per cent - a quarter of Channel 4's share and a twelfth of ITV's - compared with a target for the first year of 5 per cent.

On average just 11 per cent of the population is watching at least three minutes of the channel every day during the week ending 18 May. Some of its programmes are getting so few viewers, under 30,000, that the programmes do not appear in the BARB rating figures.

All this has provoked Zenith Media, the country's largest buyer of advertising air time, to lower its forecast of how much money Channel 5 will make this year from around pounds 95m to pounds 80m.

"Advertisers aren't trying to get their money back," said Mike Gorman, media director of Saatchi & Saatchi. "But the channel has to keep playing their ads over and over again to get up to the ratings they promised.

"It means they haven't room to take any more ads and are endangering future relationships with advertisers."

Much now hinges on the channel's broadcast of the England versus Poland World Cup football qualifying match this Saturday. The channel hopes it will provoke people who are yet to tune-in their televisions - as opposed to their videos - to do so.

It is running poster and radio advertisements telling people to tune- in their televisions for the match so it can keep them once the game is over. Some insiders believe the heavyweight video retuning campaign has confused people about the difficulty of tuning in their televisions.

"Saturday is a watershed for the channel," said Mr Gorman. "They have to make the effort to get people to retune and they have to promote all of their other programmes desperately during the match. It is a huge one- off opportunity."

However, the channel is dogged by the expectation that many football fans will travel to their local pub to watch the game, as they are used to doing to watch matches on satellite, rather than retune at home.

The England match, a "tune in your TV" advertising campaign and a deal with the Astra satellite to carry the channel are intended to raise the numbers who can receive Channel 5. Only then, says the channel, will it know if its programmes are right.

"There is no relaunch," said Sally Osman, head of corporate affairs at Channel 5. "We are two months old and the programming is evolving. That is the beauty of running so many live shows, they can evolve and change as we go along."