Channel 5 targets MPs in bid for territory

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The Independent Online
Channel 5 Broadcasting is lobbying dozens of MPs around the country, including several in marginal seats, to win support for its demand for wider national coverage.

David Elstein, chief executive of Channel 5, believes the service could be received by up to 4 million additional viewers if the Government agrees to release an additional frequency - Channel 35 - for the broadcast of the Channel 5 signal. That would increase the percentage of British homes able to receive the service to 78 per cent from 70 per cent.

So far, the Department of Trade and Industry, which has reserved Channel 35 for the use of mobile digital communications on trains and buses, has refused to accede to the request, despite lobbying from the Independent Television Commission, the television watchdog. A meeting at the DTI is scheduled for next week to review the decision.

Initial studies by Channel 5, due to be launched on 1 January 1997, have identified at least 10 regions of the country where the new service could be widely offered if the Channel 35 frequency was released. Of these, at least two are in marginal seats where pressure could be brought to bear on sitting MPs. Channel 5 is assembling a list of other regions where the sitting MP has a small majority and could be persuaded to back the campaign.

"It is clear that people will wonder why they don't receive the signal when people in nearby towns are able to do so," said a Channel 5 insider. "We believe that politicians should be made aware of the issue." Another source said: "We are in the lead-up to an election, and I'm sure MPs will want to take notice of what 'ordinary folk' want. You cannot afford to have people who want the service but cannot get it."

Channel 5 will also argue that mobile digital communications are an as- yet untested market, and it is not clear whether they would make commercial sense. The ability to receive a mainstream, commercial channel, however, has proven appeal, the broadcaster intends to tell MPs.

The broadcaster has agreed to retune millions of video cassette recorders to ensure that viewers can receive the new signal without interference. Channel 5 will be the last mainstream television service to be launched before the introduction of digital from 1998. It is expected to feature a mix of light entertainment, news and current affairs, supported by advertising revenue.

According to Channel 5's tracking data, a pounds 1m advertising campaign has increased awareness of its launch to 90 per cent from 68 per cent last month.

Channel 5 links, page 21