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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - OTE £37,000

£16000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidate will want t...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor