Jane Lighting on Broadcasting

Everyone loves the movies - apart from the television executives
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The Independent Online

Last week saw British television executives decamp to the Mip TV programming trade show in Cannes to top up their tans and indulge in a well-upholstered bun fight to buy the next big show or format.

Next month will see many of the same execs giving their air miles a further boost by jetting off to the States for the LA Screenings, where they will try to outwit and outbid each other for the hottest forthcoming American output.

As more and more terrestrials launch multi-channel off-shoots, the competition for content becomes ever more intense, and consequently the price ever higher. But currently the most cut-throat of all the markets is not the one for new formats and acquisitions but the one for movies. Never before has the battle to secure first runs of theatrical releases and back catalogues been so intense. That's why Channel 4 recently paid a reported £150m to secure a five-year supply deal with 20th Century Fox, which included some movies you wouldn't normally associate with the broadcaster, such as Garfield and Big Momma's House.

Channel 4's decision to launch the previously subscription-only FilmFour on Freeview demonstrates that, despite broadcasters being prepared to pay a premium for movies, viewers increasingly are not. As recently as two or three years ago the premiere of a blockbuster, such as Bridget Jones's Diary on Channel 4 or Terminator 3 on Five, could be pretty much guaranteed to deliver an audience of five or six million-plus. Now, similar premieres deliver about half that.

Interestingly, it seems that the story is slightly different for family films. Last year, Five's most popular movie was the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which attracted 4.3 million viewers. And, last month, seven million viewers tuned in to the terrestrial premiere of Ice Age on ITV1.

But family films aside, movies' reduced impact on viewing figures is being repeated around the world, not just in the UK. That is why Five has reduced its reliance on peaktime movies: instead of showing five or six movies every week, as it did in its early years, in some weeks it now screens just one.

The great British public certainly doesn't seem to have fallen out of love with movies, with box office receipts of £840m for 2005 representing an increase on the previous year. But when it comes to settling down to watching a movie in the comfort of your own home, there are more options than ever.

You can now get a DVD of a much-loved film classic with your morning newspaper, while earlier this year the director Steven Soderbergh's low-budget flick Bubble was simultaneously released in cinemas, on pay-cable TV and on DVD. From DVDs and video on demand, to personal video recorders and PlayStations, the choices of viewing platform are seemingly endless.

As it stands, there is still great value in big movie premieres for a terrestrial broadcaster, though the pressures brought by these new delivery platforms look set to squeeze their ratings - and consequently their ad-generating potential - ever further.

But when your television and computer become one and the same, and when you're able instantly to download any movie you like straight into your living room, then, as Fred Astaire once sang in a film, "Something's Gotta Give".

* It's a slightly shameful confession for the chief executive of a terrestrial broadcaster to make, but lately I have become slightly obsessed with dishes.

This has nothing to do with Sky or satellites, however, and everything to do with assembling my dream dinner service.

At the turn of the year I was forced to my sick bed after contracting pneumonia.

Once I'd watched all the DVDs of forthcoming Five shows sent to me by the office, I began to cast my net wider in search of distraction.

After a brief flirtation with the shopping channels, I began to browse the internet, particularly eBay. My quest was to find, piece by piece, a complete 70-piece Coalport china service in the Countryware pattern.

What started off as a harmless distraction soon became something of a preoccupation as I discovered the emotional roller-coaster ride that is bidding on eBay. Most galling was when auctions finished at 3am UK time. I'd log on first thing only to find I'd been outbid for a mustard pot by someone from Trout Creek, Texas.

But my belated introduction to the joys of internet shopping has opened up a whole new world for me: I now buy everything from my weekly groceries to furniture online. And it demonstrates that if television is going to compete we have to create programmes that can match the adrenalin rush you feel when you win that gravy boat you've set your heart on.

Greg Dyke is away.

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