Channel Five banks on football and films

Channel Five produced few ripples of surprise or alarm yesterday when it unveiled its programme line-up for the first time in a trendy waterside development on the south bank of the Thames, specially decked out in the five superbright bars of colours which comprise its corporate identity.

Apart from signalling that it will be competing fiercely in the football bidding war, there was nothing which has not been trailed already in the press.

Britain's fifth and final terrestrial service will be relying heavily on nightly films, a new-style soap opera, American imports and a different approach to news and current affairs to make its mark before the digital revolution unleashes up to 200 satellite channels at the end of this year.

Its programming budget is a modest pounds 130m, a hefty whack of which will go on a few big blockbusters such as Independence Day and Braveheart, and on live coverage of World Cup qualifier matches.

C5 has already splashed out to acquire the rights to the Poland-England match in May and confirmed yesterday that it is keen to secure coverage of the tie against Italy in the autumn.

The only major domestic drama it could trail yesterday was a series based on Stephanie Slater's kidnap at the hands of Michael Sams, which it will screen on its 30 March opening night. But it promised other projects in the pipelines.

Dawn Airey, head of programming, stressed that up to 70 per cent of its output would be original productions. She said C5 would be the only free- to-air channel which was both modern and mainstream, producing "intelligent, stylish popular television rooted in attitudes and tastes of modern British life".

It will also be the first terrestrial station to operate a "stripped and satellite" schedule, pioneered in this country by American-influenced cable and satellite channels. This means that it will slice the daily schedule into programming genres which would occupy the same slot each day.

The news output will be pitched primarily at young males, who tend not to tune into current affairs programmes but are an audience advertisers are eager to attract. A young, blonde presenter, Kirsty Young, has been brought down from Scotland to give it some sex appeal. Channel Five's chief executive David Elsteinforecast that the station would attract a 5 per cent share of total viewing by Christmas.

Hamish McRae, page 15

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