Jane Lighting on Broadcasting

High-Fives at HQ as 'Joey' proves a hit with viewers

It was trebles all round at Five's Covent Garden offices last week, when overnight figures revealed that the first episode of
Joey, the
Friends spin-off series, had attracted more than four million viewers. In terms of the channel and its progress, this was a fantastic result and represented our best ever ratings figure for a programme outside of films and football.

It was trebles all round at Five's Covent Garden offices last week, when overnight figures revealed that the first episode of Joey, the Friends spin-off series, had attracted more than four million viewers. In terms of the channel and its progress, this was a fantastic result and represented our best ever ratings figure for a programme outside of films and football.

We were keen to preserve the exclusivity of Joey and had not sold on the UK multi-channel rights, meaning that, for once, the digitally enfranchised had not got the first look at a hot new American show ahead of terrestrial-only refuseniks. But if any Friends fanatics in the UK had really wanted to see Joey before its premiere on Five, they could have. All they needed was a computer - and patience. Lots and lots of patience.

Within an hour of the first show being transmitted in the US, and four months before its UK debut, it had been illegally downloaded onto websites and was just a mouse-click away. Research by Five's IT department reveals that more than a dozen shows currently on the channel, many of them American, can be found on the internet.

The fact that the series was available in this way yet our ratings didn't suffer is partly because the speed of download from websites is positively glacial. But the increase in availability of broadband and the evolution of the living room television set into a "multimedia centre" will mean downloading TV shows from the internet will become as quick and easy as sending an e-mail. Add this to the rise of Personal Video Recorders such as Sky+, and video-on-demand, and you can see why some soothsayers are predicting the demise of traditional "linear TV".

Meanwhile, the increasingly lucrative secondary rights market is beginning to resemble the Wild West, with mobile content providers, terrestrial TV channels, video-on-demand companies, websites, pay-TV firms, DVD specialists and independent production houses all slugging it out, saloon bar-brawl style. The reason that there is potential for secondary rights to be such a money-spinner is because broadcasters, mainly the terrestrials and multi-channels who have real marketing clout, have created the demand to see the shows in the first place.

Much of Joey's success was due to the audience already established by Channel 4's heavy promotion of its predecessor, Friends, and the extensive, and costly, marketing and PR campaign Five undertook to launch the series. Also, by being on a terrestrial channel, Joey benefited from being a shared viewing experience, something everyone could watch at the same time, turning it into instant "water-cooler" TV.

When secondary rights holders screen these shows, whatever their medium, they reap the benefit of millions of pounds-worth of on- and off-air promotion, all at no cost to them. Is it hoping too much to expect them to make a contribution to broadcasters' marketing costs, or even co-fund the productions themselves? Perhaps it's a little premature to be worrying too much about all these increasingly high-tech ways of delivering television to the viewers. When you look at the new delivery systems, it's interesting to note that, alongside broadband, Freeview, the simplest of all the available propositions, has proved to be the most popular with viewers. It could be that the success of this platform, and not the Hutton Report, will be the real legacy of Greg Dyke, the usual incumbent of this column.

Reality election? It's got my vote

The Prime Minister spent last Wednesday on Five, appearing on four shows throughout the day. The culmination was a one-hour debate in which nine voters got to cross-examine him.

Being questioned by people who live the issues, such as the mother of a child with autism who grilled Mr Blair on special needs schools, seemed to have a huge impact on the Prime Minister. Credit must go to him for agreeing to be interrogated on live TV. The same applies to both Charles Kennedy and Michael Howard, who will face a similar trial on Five soon.

They seem to have recognised the need to engage with a jaded electorate. But if we are to reinvigorate the political process and motivate first-time voters, we may need to look to our most popular TV formats for ideas.

ITV has already road-tested the Pop Idol formula with Vote For Me. Now maybe it's time for the ultimate reality show. You'd be guaranteed the biggest turn-out of young voters in British political history if you put Blair, Howard and Kennedy in the Big Brother house and invited the public to vote them out one by one. Not only would the winner get the keys to No 10, they'd also get the ultimate prize of the modern age - a Heat front cover.

Greg Dyke is away

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