Thursday, 12 August 2010

Desmond culls Five's management team

Channel Five will lose seven out of nine executive board directors, as new owner Richard Desmond attempts to make savings of around £20 million - £9 million from staff cuts, and £11 million from overheads.

Only Jeff Ford, managing director of digital channels, and Kelly Williams, sales director, will remain.

At a 10am meeting this morning, staff were told about Desmond's cost-cutting plans, which include up to 80 job losses (over 25% of around 300 current employees).

One of those leaving is Dawn Airey, Five chairman and chief executive. She joined Channel Five in 1996, the year before it launched, as its first director of programmes, and became chief executive in 2000. Airey will be moving to RTL - Five's former owner.

Richard Woolfe, director of programmes, is also leaving. Ford will be taking over his role, which appears to indicate a decrease in original programming, as Woolfe has been encouraging new talent since joining Channel Five last year.

Others leaving are director of legal affairs and company secretary Paul Chinnery, director of strategy Charles Constable, finance director David Hockley, corporate affairs director Sue Robertson and managing director Mark White.

Airey said that: "The day Five was sold, my job was done. I will be returning to the RTL Group but over the next few months will remain in post with a number of my senior colleagues to facilitate the integration of Five into Northern & Shell.

"I want to thank Richard, Charles, Sue, Mark, David, Paul and Natasha for the dedication and commitment that they have shown Five and the support they have given me over the years. They have all made a significant contribution to leading Five towards a successful future. I love Five, its staff, its spirit and all we have achieved. I wish the channel, its team, Richard Desmond and Northern & Shell all the success they deserve."

"This is the first of many initiatives that will see a new streamlined Channel Five make enormous strides over the coming years. One area of particular importance is that of Project Canvas and the amazing possibilities it opens up for the future for viewers."

Desmond added: "Whilst I'm sorry to see Dawn move on, I'm thrilled that she'll be in the mix to contribute to the various exciting plans we have and oversee the acquisition and development of brilliant new content."

As well as the impending redundancies, Five staff were also told that they will be moving out of their offices in Covent Garden. Instead, they will be working at Desmond's Northern & Shell premises in the City, and there will be a merging of back office functions (such as IT and human resources) between the businesses.

In a statement today, Northern & Shell said: "The savings aim to realise efficiencies deriving from Channel Five's integration into the Northern & Shell group of companies and at the same time develop an ambitious new investment plan that will see the channel go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the TV world. Long-term financial input in the field of £300m per year for the next five years is planned by Northern & Shell."

This £20 million cost-cutting plan is reminiscent of the cuts Desmond made at The Daily Express, when he purchased it almost ten years ago.

Desmond bought Channel Five for £103.5 million last month, announcing a £1 billion plan to turn the channel around after it reported an operating loss of €41 million last year.

Originally posted on Newsline, part of the MediaTel Group

Monday, 9 August 2010

Channel 4 launches Paralympics promotion and 'Freaks of Nature' campaign

Channel 4 is marking the two years until the Paralympic Games opening ceremony with a series of special programmes, along with a two-year multimillion-pound campaign promoting its coverage of the games, called 'Freaks of Nature'.

Julian Bellamy, Channel 4's acting chief creative officer, has said that the 2012 event will be "biggest event in Channel 4's history".

"We believe we can do for the Paralympics what we did for cricket. More than ever before, I believe Channel 4 can do something different and special," he added.

This August bank holiday weekend, Channel 4 will run programmes promoting the Paralympic Games. This includes That Paralympic Show, which will be hosted by Rick Edwards of T4 fame, and Ade Adepitan, a disabled broadcaster and wheelchair basketball medallist. It will also feature special guests such as Alex Reid, and regular features such as 'Pimp my Chair'.

Other programmes due to be shown include a documentary called Inside Incredible Athletes, which features seven disabled London athletes. Additionally, that weekend's T4, hosted by Steve Jones and Miquita Oliver, will be hosted from a house near to the Paralympics GB training camp.

The channel is also launching a £500,000 search for British disabled talent, to contribute as presenters and commentators during the Paralympics, aiming for disabled presenters to make up half of its Paralympics team.

Adepitan said he did not know why there was an absence of disabled presenters: "I don't think there's any particular reason why, but Channel 4 is doing their utmost to find the best talent to portray the Paralympics."

The 'Freaks of Nature' campaign, launching on Sunday, aims to continue the promotion of the Paralympic Games, and make household names out of disabled athletes.

Bellamy stated that research shows 84% of the public could not name a single British Paralympian, despite Britain coming second in the medals table in last Games. The campaign is "trying to dramatically change that lack of awareness", he said.

According to Channel 4's head of marketing, Rufus Radcliffe, the campaign would be the channel's biggest ever. It launches with promos next week, featuring five disabled athletes talking about their abilities, and will have full-page adverts in the press over the August bank holiday weekend.

Bellamy, added: "The Freaks of Nature marketing trail is part of a bold campaign that portrays Paralympians as Channel 4 feels they should be seen - supremely talented athletes who, like their able bodies sporting counterparts, are set apart from the rest of us by their staggering ability, not their disability.

"And this reflects our ambitions for our coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games themselves - encouraging viewers to focus on the awe-inspiring ability on display throughout."

Channel 4 won the rights to air the Paralympic Games earlier this year, and Bellamy has confirmed that, apart from programmes such as the news, the channel's schedule will be cleared for 150 hours of live coverage of the Paralympics, running from 29 August to 9 September 2012.

Originally posted on Newsline, part of the MediaTel Group

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Can Richard Desmond save channel Five?

Richard Desmond bought Channel Five for £103.5 million on Friday afternoon, adding to his media empire which includes the Daily Express, the Daily Star and OK! magazine. He summarised his plans just two hours after acquiring the channel: "All we are going to do is add more programmes, and put extra money on screen... Five is going to be huge."

Since then, he has announced a more informative £1 billion plan for Channel Five, as he wants it to be called, which aims to entice advertisers with an alternative to so-called "arrogant and monopolistic" ITV. Desmond aims to increase Five's share of advertising significantly, doubling it from 7% to 14%. He predicts that each percentage gain could add £43 million to the top line.

Five cannot promote Desmond's newspapers, due to European rules; however, the channel can be given as much free publicity as he chooses in his newspapers and magazines. From this week, Five will be advertised heavily in OK! magazine and the Daily Star, spending £20 million a year with them.

Desmond has also promised a £100 million investment in programming: "We want to show programmes that people watch."

Jim Marshall, chief client officer at Aegis and regular MediaTel columnist, says: "I wouldn't like to predict how he is going to shape the channel for the future, either in terms of its programme schedule or its digital development. However I can confidently predict that he will 'ruffle a lot of feathers', particularly of the existing broadcast fraternity and regulators, which will be fun - as long as you're not in the direct firing line! I also have a suspicion that he will confound his critics by making it profitable even if it doesn't win too many Baftas."

What we do know is that there have been talks of bringing back shows such as Top of the Pops, and buying the rights to reality show Big Brother (which is running for the final time on Channel 4 this summer). However, Desmond claims that Dawn Airey, Five's chief executive, will make any final decisions. "At the end of the day, I let my editors edit, the same way the programmer will decide what will go on air".

Desmond has already assured Ofcom that Five will continue to broadcast news and current affairs, in order to abide by the terms of its terrestrial licence, as well as pledging to continue with deals for shows including CSI and Neighbours.

He has also indicated that he is willing to pay the £16 million required for Five to return to video-on-demand joint venture Project Canvas, which the channel pulled out of earlier this month due to financial problems.

However, despite assurances and promises, staff at Five are fearing the arrival of a cost-cutting Desmond, the same man who massively cut down on expenditure at the Daily Express and relocated sub-editors to Lancashire.

Looking at Desmond's newspaper investments, around 664,000 people still buy the Daily Express every day and over 550,000 buy the Sunday Express. The Daily Star has increased in circulation by 200,000 readers, in just under a decade. He is said to have simply cut costs including jobs, but he has been successful enough to take many millions out of the business.

Even without this track record, Desmond's large injection of money into Five does appear to offer some hope for the channel that never took off in the way that other channels managed. Posting an operating loss of €41 million last year, the low value of Five was highlighted during the sale; the next highest offer after Desmond's bid was less than £50 million. Clearly this is a channel that needs changes to be made.

But is Desmond the man to provide these changes? Enders Analysis' Toby Syfret, quoted in The Guardian, doesn't think so - "unless he has the vision of somehow being able to find the golden ticket and make relatively low-cost programming with popular appeal. That is the conundrum. Maybe he's seen something that has been beyond the wit of RTL to find. It's just difficult to imagine what it might be."

Whether Desmond has 'the golden ticket' or not is something that only time, and a lot of investment, will tell. Either way, with the 'half a trillion' ideas that Desmond states he has for Channel Five, it sounds like it'll be an interesting ride.

Originally posted on Newsline, part of MediaTel.

Friday, 23 July 2010

J Design opens in Barnes

For The Green Magazine

As I push through the crowd, with a DJ set on one side of me, and cries of "More champagne?" from the other, it's hard to believe that this scene, surrounded by beautiful furniture and artwork, takes place in a shop in Barnes.

But this is no ordinary shop - Jacqueline Willers, the owner, calls it a 'complete lifestyle choice'. Offering the total package of interior design, Jacqueline explains that the aim of the shop is to have "people pop their heads over the top of the stable door at the front, and cry, 'Crumbs, my loo's broken!', and I can help them. It doesn't necessarily have to be the whole house - don't feel intimidated!".

Indeed, intimidation seems to be the last thing this shop will offer, as Jacqueline plans to bring interior design down to a very personal level - even having her two terriers as permanent features of the place. This important reasoning is why 'it simply had to be Barnes'.

"It's a village - a village with a community for crazy people like me!" says Jacqueline. "And interior design is so personal - this is why I don't have a style, it's your house and it should reflect your taste."

At this point, she gets interrupted by someone running up and hugging her enthusiastically. "This is what I mean!", Jacqueline manages to gasp out, in between greeting the people turning up. "A real community spirit..." And these words are earnestly echoed by the Deputy Mayor, Rita Palmer, who seems very proud to be officially opening the shop - with good reason.

Although Jacqueline laughs that she bought the shop 'accidentally', when originally intending to buy some jewellery from across the road, it is clear that this beautiful establishment is a labour of love. And, by the looks of things, it deserves to be a great success as well.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Tony Wild and 'The Moonstone Legacy'

“In a sacred cave high in the mountains of northern India, a white-haired hermit sits cross-legged, and signs his final testament: “George Abercrombie, 1874…”
In present-day England, fourteen year old Lizzy Abercrombie’s mother dies in a tragic accident on the full moon. But was it really an accident? Lizzy discovers that her death may be linked to a mysterious family curse.
Determined to find the truth, her quest takes her from a splendid Anglo-Indian mansion on the Yorkshire moors to India, where she uncovers her ancestor's terrible past and a stolen inheritance. But her discoveries put her in mortal danger from a ruthless enemy...”

So reads the synopsis for a gripping new novel by Diana de Gunzburg and Tony Wild – The Moonstone Legacy – inspired by classic detective novel The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. Tony Wild has previously written popular histories for Harper Collins, including the best-selling Black Gold: A Dark History of Coffee, but this is his first venture into fiction writing – although The Moonstone Legacy does manage to incorporate elements of historical concerns within its fictional basis. In terms of particular interests, Tony has strong connections with York and the surrounding area, having grown up in Yorkshire himself. He is also the former director of ‘Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate’ – the company responsible for the classic Yorkshire Tea and our beloved Betty’s Tea Rooms. He even held the book-launch for The Moonstone Legacy in the Belmont Room at said tea rooms – a room that one of his relatives actually designed himself. This commitment to Yorkshire, and passion for the area, can clearly be seen throughout his novel.

This is due to the emphasis on geographical location within The Moonstone Legacy – obviously including our very own Yorkshire. Speaking to Nouse, Tony explains that, “the Yorkshire landscape is hugely varied and its beauty unrivalled” – something I’m sure we can agree with. This wonderful scenery clearly inspired part of the setting for the novel – and the Yorkshire influence can be seen to apply to more than just aesthetics, as Tony comments that “Yorkshire people have a gritty realism leavened by the driest of wits.” The novel is not only set in Yorkshire, however – it is also partially based in India, specifically the area of Gujarat, and the country holds a strong fascination for Tony. This attraction is demonstrated by his previous historical books, which include Coffee: A Dark History, and The East India Company Book of Chocolate. Diana de Gunzburg, the second author of The Moonstone Legacy, was born in Pakistan, and Tony has visited her and present-day India on numerous occasions. He feels that “the richness of its cultural and religious heritage is phenomenal, and the effects of the British period have been absorbed like so many conquerors before them”; these cultural remnants are explored in Tony’s historical book Remains of the Raj: The British Legacy in India. The beauty of India is clearly something that has affected both of the novel’s authors, as the images associated with The Moonstone Legacy demonstrate. At the book launch, a slide-show of beautiful Indian scenes was shown throughout the evening, as the visual elements are essential to the feel of the novel. However, aesthetics are not the only important aspects of the book - the cultural and spiritual elements of India, and indeed of The Moonstone Legacy itself, are obviously important to Tony, as he reveals that the novel was greatly inspired by “the grand cosmic dance of the earth, sun and moon”.

But why has this interest in Yorkshire and India led Tony to write a fictional novel, rather than the histories that he had previously been writing? And which does he prefer? “Fiction is fab and fun”, Tony explains, “although strangely much harder work than history.” When writing The Moonstone Legacy, he did find himself up against difficulties that he hadn’t experienced when writing his historical books. Specifically, referring to the construction of a novel compared to the writing of histories, he felt that “there is something truly liberating about making things up, but there is a huge responsibility to make sure an imaginary world can be felt as strongly as the real one.” Luckily, this is a responsibility that he managed to successfully achieve within the novel – and Tony intends to continue this in a further two novels, as The Moonstone Legacy is the first novel of a planned trilogy. Tony reveals that, “the second book is close to completion, and the third provisionally plotted” – and we’re looking forward to it.

I want to be forever young...

Recently, I found myself accidentally (ahem) engrossed in Junior Apprentice – and had a horrific realisation. I wanted Tim Ankers to win, not due to his entrepreneurial prowess, but because I thought he was a massive fitty. That wasn’t the realisation, by the way, I know everyone is secretly that shallow really. But no, the panic set in when I realised that the person in question was seventeen. SEVENTEEN. Now at first glance, this might not seem too young. I thought it might be acceptable. But then I realised my younger brother and sister were also 17. And that he was still in sixth form - God, how long ago was that? – and I’ve almost finished my second year of university. Clearly incompatible. But it doesn’t stop there.

I mean, I still feel like the ‘Skins generation’. We were the same age as the characters when Skins first came out, and, although it may be nothing like real life, and quite frankly appalling in all senses of the word, I have to admit that I still watch it now. And I plan on watching the next series; or planned, at least. Because then I realised that I would be 21 when the next series came out, and they would be fresh-faced 16 year olds. How can I relate to that? I’m not even a teenager anymore. I’m a ‘twenty something’. I’ve crossed the boundary from child to young adult – and it scares the hell out of me. I fill out forms and surveys and I’m in the ‘20 – 25’ bracket – or worse, ‘20 – 30’. I’m in the same section as people who are married with children, and I still feel like a child myself.

It’s even worse with the flood of adolescent celebrities at the moment – Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, anyone? The former is only 17 years old, and has already been voted 29th on Forbes 2009 Celebrity 100, with a total earning of $25 million. That’s a hell of a lot more than my student loan. And ‘Bieber fever’ has been taking over the world, with over 5 million albums sold worldwide – and he’s only 16. Whilst I may think my singing in the shower is something worth paying for, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t match that - especially when I was 16.

So what can I do? I suppose the fact that I spent the last paragraph essentially complaining about the ‘youth of today’ speaks for itself. I am getting older, and although those late nights at Willow mean I’m doing it not so gracefully, acceptance should be the first step. I may not be the next Miley Cyrus, but at least I got to have a childhood, instead of being propelled into the world of celebrity. Not that I would refuse $25 million, though – that might make up for it. And now my childhood is over, I have to realise that being a twenty-something can be fun; it may be scary, but I’m sure I can enjoy it – hell, the last year has been brilliant.

Still, come back to me in ten years and I may claim to be 25 – a little white lie never hurt anyone, right?

Monday, 31 May 2010

Another iPad article...

Apple, the great masters of technology, have recently unleashed their latest creation – the iPad. This light-weight tablet computer weighs only 1.5 pounds, and measures in at 9.6” by 7.5”, making it perfect to use as an e-reader. Although the iPad is yet to be released in the UK, it has made an impact in America, and its arrival here is eagerly awaited. But how will this “magical and revolutionary product”, as Apple describes it, affect the way we read our books and magazines?

The iPad could result in an increase in readership levels – as the cost of printing and delivering is not applicable for e-books or e-magazines, then the consumer should find themselves paying a reduced cost for the finished good. Lower prices should lead to an increase in demand – and anything that encourages people to read is a desirable effect. The device also offers incentives for those who are already avid readers – the ability to store numerous books or magazines in a portable manner. It will enable people to own a wide choice of reading material that is easily accessible, making those long commutes much more enjoyable. Although other e-readers also offer this, the iPad has a screen larger than other models, resulting in a more comfortable read.

One other aspect that will be affected by the iPad is advertising, which could actually target individual people, much like sites such as Facebook offer at the moment. Adverts placed in e-magazines or e-newspapers can be specifically chosen to appeal to individual readers. The iPad has GPS, meaning adverts for particular areas can be directed to people in these locations, not to mention information that can be gathered from your choice of applications, reading material, age, and so on. This is not simply beneficial for the advertising agencies, but also for the consumer; specifically aimed adverts are a bonus for the reader, as they target their relevant interests.

However, the iPad certainly isn’t cheap, with rumours suggesting that models in the UK will range from £429 to £699. With books and magazines costing considerably less than this hefty price tag, will the benefits weigh up against the fact that a minimum of over £400 is necessary to acquire them? If this cost is deemed worthy, there is still a whole realm of problems facing the publishing companies themselves. As the internet provides constant and up-to-date information, the magazines that are normally monthly will have to compete with these instantaneous updates. Even if they do manage to match the online information, would people be willing to pay for something they can view on an iPad when they can also browse similar, and free, websites, on an iPad? Whilst paper newspapers and magazines are still purchased currently, despite the internet, the concept of viewing these through an e-reader means they lose the unique paper and ink aspect that currently means they sell.

Newspapers have already been keen to jump on the iPad bandwagon - the New York Times are offering a free Editor’s Choice application, that will offer a daily selection of the newspaper's top stories and articles, as picked by the editors. Closer to home, The Times are planning on bringing out a similar paid application – although current subscribers will not have to pay for access. Interview magazine have also managed to produce a successful iPad application, that not only offers content found in the magazine, but also offers exclusive video and audio content – revealing another aspect of the iPad revolution, in terms of the journalism found in forms other than writing.

Simon Allen, former President of the Publishers’ Association, believes that, “the iPad is not necessarily a game-changer, but it certainly gives publishers a great opportunity to get all their titles delivered in electronic form, in a very convenient and flexible way. It certainly provides exciting opportunities for the publishing industry”. So, will the iPad completely change the shape of journalism forever? I suppose all we can really do is wait and see...