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Channel Five licence attracts only one bidder

ONLY one group applied to the Independent Television Commission yesterday for the licence to run Channel Five, Britain's proposed fifth terrestrial television channel.

The nominal bid, believed to be just pounds 1,000, was submitted before the noon deadline by Channel Five Holdings. This is a company owned by Thames Television, the ITV contractor which lost its franchise, after 24 years, last October.

The lack of interest was in marked contrast to the frantic interest in the most profitable ITV franchises last year. The ITC will take several months to vet the unopposed application, which is seeking financial backers.

Richard Dunn, chairman of Channel Five Holdings, and chief executive of Thames Television, said: 'This is a serious application for a national television licence.' It was not, he said, 'an immediate licence to print money' but should be viewed as a 10-year business opportunity.

Thames is taking a 15 per cent stake by providing programmes and services to the pounds 150m project, but is seeking investors to take up the other 85 per cent. It has appointed Moses Znaimer, 49, the Canadian entrepreneur who founded trendy Citytv in Toronto, as the channel's architect.

The lack of interest in running the channel arises from the massive difficulty and cost of checking and retuning equipment in up to 7 million homes with video recorders. This is because the channels 35 and 37 allocated to Channel Five may clash with those used by videos. The new operator would have to retune videos in the areas affected within three weeks.

Mr Dunn said that Channel Five Holdings would 'train a field force, an army of retuners' to do this before broadcasts started.

The application says that it will cost pounds 75m to retune and install new aerials. It likens the project to the conversion of British homes to North Sea gas during the 1960s.

Mr Dunn said all the people doing retuning would wear uniforms and carry photo-identity cards, and would be screened because of concern over security.

The application plans a 24-hour London-based service starting in July 1993, a form of super-station which would also be broadcast throughout Britain on the Astra satellite.

Channel Five Holdings, as the licence holder, would own this 100 per cent. At this stage it would be available to 46 per cent of UK homes.

It would then seek investors for a 49 per cent minority stake for a Manchester-based station, to start in 1994, followed by a Birmingham station in 2000 and a Scotland station by 2001.

Mr Dunn said that there has been a 'huge amount of disinformation about Channel Five' since the rest of broadcasting did not want another rival.

The BBC's first episode of Eldorado, its 'sex, sun and sangria' soap opera, is reported by industry sources to have attracted poor ratings of about 6.1 million viewers on Monday, little more than the average for the discontinued Wogan.

ITV's special hour-long edition of Coronation Street attracted 12 million viewers, rising to 15 million after 7.30pm.

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