Viewers of Channel 4 are unimpressed by some of its most hyped shows, audience figures showed yesterday, and turn to Channel 5. C4 recorded one of its worst weeks for some time, and its former downmarket rival, now known as Five, came within a whisker of overtaking it in the ratings.
The adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth was among C4 programmes viewers switched off in droves, despite the success of the novel and a massive marketing campaign for the series. White Teeth lost 500,000 viewers between the first and second episodes, leaving an audience of 1.7 million.
Other casualties include College Girls, the fly-on-the-wall series about undergraduates at an Oxford college. With 800,000 viewers last Sunday, it had less than a quarter of the viewers who watched a simultaneous documentary on Michael Jackson's face and psyche on Five.
Five beats several of C4's most-anticipated programmes in prime-time head-to-head battles. At one stage at the weekend, Five was on the verge of overtaking C4 with just 0.2 per cent of audience share separating them.
C4 also has problems in its daytime viewing, with The Big Breakfast replacement, RI:SE, struggling to attract more than 200,000 viewers. The second series of Richard and Judy also disappointed, confirming the predictions of many that they were unsuited to a move from ITV to C4. The show has averaged 1.2 million viewers at 5pm. The popularity of Brookside is waning, with a million viewers an episode, compared to five million in its heyday.
Three years ago the soap was pulling in 5.34 million, with 2.75 million watching the weekday episodes and a further 2.59 million turning to the omnibus edition at Saturday teatimes.
C4's overall peak-time schedule last week had a 6.8 per cent viewer share, compared to 6.6 per cent for Five. Didier Bellens, the chief executive of RTL Group, Five's owner, made it clear that C4 was in its sights, telling the Royal Television Society his goal was to build Five into the number-two commercial broadcaster after ITV.
For Five, the last week was particularly significant because, for the first time, all programmes were commissioned by Kevin Lygo, the relatively new head of programming and former C4 executive, who is behind Five's drive up-market.
C4 acknowledged it had a bad week but said Five's good year was heavily reliant on its acquisition of Home and Away from ITV, "hardly an example of elevated scheduling". A Five spokesman said: "The last week was the new-look Five, sophisticated but accessible."
A spokesman for C4 said: "There is no comparison between C4 and Five. Five is there to maximise return to its shareholders. C4 is there to offer a diverse and distinctive schedule to viewers, and we show arts programmes and documentaries on a Saturday night." He said the average share for peak-time was its highest this year at 9.9 per cent, and over the year they had a 10.3 per cent share across the day while Five has 6.4 per cent.
HEAD TO HEAD
College Girls: 9pm, last Sunday, Channel 4. The cameras followed a student who failed to become college president. A bluestocking docu-soap must have seemed a good idea but it appealed to just 800,000 viewers.
Michael Jackson's Face: 9pm, last Sunday, Five. 'If that's what's happening on the outside, what's happening on the inside?' The posters that posed this conundrum helped get Five an audience of 3.6 million, a 15 per cent share.
RI:SE: weekdays 6.55-9am, Channel 4. This successor to 'The Big Breakfast', fronted by Mark Durden-Smith, has failed to become cult viewing. The cheeky, cheery formula only attracts 200,000 viewers, or a 6 per cent share.
Make Way For Noddy: weekdays 7.30-8am, Five: The animated adventures of Enid Blyton's children's character regularly attract 300,000 viewers – or a 7 per cent audience share – suggesting that traditional stories still have a place.