Media: Keeping up with the all-night viewer: What kind of audience is at large in the small hours? Owen Slot looks at Channel 4's late-night line-up

Children of the Seventies may have enjoyed the return of The Clangers to the television schedules last weekend. If they were awake at 3.55 on Saturday morning, that is. Unlike Florence and Dougal, stars of The Magic Roundabout who made their comeback earlier this year, The Clangers were not primed for a new generation of children just home from primary school, but for overgrown children back from a late night out.

Channel 4 started to run through the night last Friday and will continue to do so on Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas. Dropping The Clangers into 'Late Licence', the name of the all- night schedule, adds further nostalgia to a package that includes repeats of Ready Steady Go, the Sixties pop show, the first TV appearance of the Sex Pistols and a whole night dedicated to the Velvet Underground. Along with repeats of modern pop programmes - The Word, Eurotrash, Naked City - it is a recipe for youth market consumption. Or, in the words of Nicey and Smashie, the Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse creations who presented last weekend's viewing: 'It is a great idea from the boffins at Channel 4 of putting the older sort of shows which nobody watched the first time round on all through the night when even less people are going to watch them.'

Bill Hilary, the boffin at Channel 4 in charge of 'Late Licence', is convinced that there is an audience of insomniacs for this cultish schedule, but he has a get-out clause: if it doesn't work, forget it. The next four weeks are a trial run: 'If there is an audience out there, then we'll develop it.' Success won't be judged solely by audience figures - Hilary says he hasn't even been given a target - though ratings of below 200,000 will probably mean that, after Christmas, late-night watchers will be restricted to ITV.

Is ITV worried by the competition? 'Not really, not with the scheduling that I've seen thus far,' Warren Breach, head of night-time television at London Weekend Television, says. 'There's a lot of recycled material. If I was making the effort to stay up until 3am, I would be a bit pissed off if a programme came up that was a repeat.'

And there's the rub for night schedulers. The audience is going to be small, therefore the schedule is never going to be heavily financed, so Channel 4 doesn't have much choice but to screen repeats. Hilary, however, doesn't see this as a problem. 'The minute you start to make it glossy then it becomes very LE (light entertainment) and I think you've got a problem.'

Hilary's schedule suggests that it is more important that the target audience finds the content 'cool' rather than notices whether it is original or not. Any viewers unsure whether Hilary has them in his sights need only see if they identify with the celebrity duos lined up to present 'Late Licence': Jack Dee and Mark Lamarr, Julian Clary and Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard and Rhona Cameron, and Paula Yates and Jools Holland.

''It's more to do with station identity than competition,' Hilary says. The sort of presenters selected for 'Late Licence' would probably alienate some watchers of ITV's late schedules, which have a broader range of programmes - what Hilary describes as 'the scattergun approach'.

The largest step forward in night-time programming was LWT's youth- oriented 'Night Network' in 1987. It only ran for a year, not because it wasn't successful but because the ratings wouldn't persuade advertisers to pay the premiums that were being demanded to cover LWT's costs. The night-time audience, however, is an unusual beast - not your standard family with two children, but as often as not a group of people swigging tinnies in front of the same screen - and since audience watchdogs could not record this, 'Night Network' may have been sent to an untimely grave.

More sophisticated technology, which can now measure the size of audience that videos programmes, has shown that the wrong people may have been watching the programmes all along. American Gladiators and WCW Wrestling, it turns out, were favourites of four- to 15-year-olds who would watch the recorded programmes the following day.

The question for schedulers is whether they can find a million people who stay up late. Eighteen days ago, ITV's networked screening of the world heavyweight title fight between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield produced something of a coup by recording 1.1 million at 4.15am. But that's not the sort of programme or audience that Channel 4 is even considering.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before