A sharper picture on C5

Today the ITC finally receives a clutch of mighty bids for Britain's fifth and last 'free' television channel.

Today, by high noon at the latest, three bidders for the licence to operate Channel 5 will deliver applications, up to 12 inches thick, to the offices of the Independent Television Commission. One of these will be the blueprint for Britain's fifth terrestrial channel, likely to be the last "free" TV offered to Britons.

The list of interested partiesreads like a media who's who. Within the ranks of the three consortia likely to bid are Rupert Murdoch, Richard Dunn, the former head of Thames Television; Greg Dyke, the Pearson Television chairman and former head of LWT; Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers; and the ubiquitous Richard Branson.

The proposals contain programming schedules, business plans, technical data and the most important information of all: the figures - just how much the bidders are willing to pay to the Treasury for the licence.

No one is breathing a word about just how much that might be. This is a blind auction, with the highest qualified bid winning. Analysts suggest a range of £10m to £25m a year, but they admit they are guessing. One media executive who doesn't wish to be named but whose company decided against entering the fray thought £1,000 annually might do it. After all, the successful bidder will have to shell out as much as £70m to retune VCRs up and down the country, to ensure they receive a clear signal for the new channel (see box).

"Maybe the retuning costs should be the licence fee, period," the executive says.

Whoever wins, Channel 5's character is already becoming apparent. There will be no catering to "minority views", as Channel 4 is mandated to do. Nor will there be any regional programming, as ITV and the BBC routinely provide. Instead, we will be treated, in varying amounts, to drama, films, sport, children's programming and light entertainment.

All have promised significant spending on independent British production. Virgin TV - backed by the Virgin Group, the electronics company Philips, the US-based Paramount Television, the ITV company HTV, and Associated Newspapers - is promising to set up a credit facility with Coutts to offer as much as £100m to help fund British independent production. Virgin TV would have first call on UK television rights.

Film is a favoured strand of all three bidders. BSkyB, with partners TCI, PolyGram, Goldman Sachs, the European broadcaster Kinnevik and perhaps Granada, is expected to offer big-event television premieres of popular movies, probably earlier than the three-year waiting time currently imposed on Britain's earthbound TV channels. These might be made available for terrestrial broadcast as part of a broader deal with film producers to show them on Sky and Channel 5 at different times.

Virgin plans to show 1,000 films a year, at the rate of about 20 a week, many at peak viewing times. These would be a mixture of classics, made- for-television movies and a pinch of first-run fare.

Robert Devereux, head of Virgin TV, says the presence of Paramount Television in the consortium is an indication of the importance of made-for-TV films to Virgin's plans. But, he insists, "all Paramount product in the schedule will be negotiated on an arm's length basis. There is no obligation to purchase".

All three proposals are believed to include talk show formats as well. Virgin TV would show The Big Lounge every evening at 11pm, featuring guests and regular routines and hosted by a newcomer whom Devereux describes as being "the next Chris Evans".

News programming, an important part of the ITC's requirement for Channel 5, is likely to differentiate each bidder from its competition. Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times and 50 per cent owner of the Economist, has a strong franchise in business news and would be expected to make it a prominent part of its schedule. BSkyB would also be likely to tap its own resources at Sky News. Virgin would go a different route, offering hourly bulletins of about three minutes each but no flagship evening news programme. It would, however, produce a current affairs news magazine programme - lighter in content and tone than the BBC's Panorama or ITV's World in Action.

Children's programming is where Virgin TV hopes to win big audiences. With partner HTV, already an important producer of children's fare, Virgin plans to develop 12 new programmes and to broadcast 30 hours of children's programming a week, eight times the minimum required by the ITC.

When it comes to sports programming, however, neither Pearson nor Virgin can come close to competing with BSkyB, already a dominant sports broadcaster. Indeed, Virgin TV is steering clear of sport.

The real battleground may be drama. All three bidders have set up arrangements with independent television producers, in an effort to meet the minimum requirements set down by the ITC for original programming. A favoured approach has been to sign producers of current hits, hoping they can make lightning strike twice by supplying another highly popular show.

For example, Virgin has an understanding with the producers of Poirot and the Ruth Rendell Mysteries. And Pearson can call on Grundy Worldwide, maker of game shows and soaps such as Neighbours. Pearson bought the Australian company earlier this year for £175m. All three bidders are likely to want a soap.

The winner will need to build an audience quickly if it is to clinch the lucrative advertising contracts needed to turn an operating profit within the projected three to five years. Simply attracting audiences won't be enough, however. The winner will first have to overcome the retuning hurdle.

BSkyB is thought to view retuning as an opportunity as much as an obstacle. Having to send representatives into perhaps 6 million homes would provide a chance to sell satellite services. Virgin believes it would not have to visit every home. Instead it would provide a freephone number for Channel 5 viewers to ring; Virgin representatives would then judge whether an in-home visit was necessary.

In the end, whoever wins the licence is likely to receive approaches the next day from independent producers in bed with other bidders. The final product may not look precisely like any of the bids landing today, with an almighty thump, on sundry desks at the ITC.

Business, page 24

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices