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Channel 5 - Factsheet





Welcome to the detailed history of Channel 5, Britain's Fifth Terrestrial channel.  Throughout the following pages we will chart and detail the history of the last ever national analogue network through an aerial.

The following article is from the Channel 5 Duty Office, sent out just after the launch on 30th March 1997

5 - an historic event for British Television

They said it couldn't be done

5 launched at 6.00pm on 30th March 1997 to take its place alongside BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 at the UK's fifth free terrestrial television service.

Before broadcasting could begin, however, 5 was faced with what many thought to be an impossible task - retuning over 9 million homes across the UK.  This was the largest house-to-house operation since the conversion to natural gas and nothing like it has ever been done before.

The whole operation involved more than 6,500 re-tuners and 380 supervisors and managers walking over 11 million miles.

A condition of the licence awarded to Channel 5 was that 90% of affected households must have been checked for interference and re-tuned where necessary before broadcasting could begin.

The ITC announced that Channel 5 had fulfilled this requirement on 13th March 1997.

Staggeringly, 5 had successfully retuned 99.76% of homes without the need for a revisit and it was clear that the stringent security measures, worked out in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, had been extremely effective.

UK television's first successful launch

The launch of 5 broke the mould in UK television history and was acclaimed as a success.

On its first night, the new channel attracted a higher share of peak time viewing than Channel 4 in spite of only being available to a relatively low proportion of the UK population.

5 worked quickly to make its programmes available nation-wide and having already secured carriage on cable, went further by becoming the first UK terrestrial channel to be broadcast simultaneously on satellite.  This has given everyone in the country the change to get 5 and, as a free-to-air channel, there is no subscription charge, no matter how it is distributed.

After only 2 months, more than 50% of the population can receive 5 and the share of viewing in Channel 5 homes has already reached the 5% target.  These numbers will be growing throughout the year, as extra transmitters are switched on and as homes find 5 on their TVs.

5's schedule will develop and evolve in time with the fast changing pace of popular culture.  Already 5 has announced groundbreaking new film deals, major sporting events and additions to its wide ranging original programmes.

How 5 came alive

The decision to establish a fifth national channel followed a study commissioned by the Government in 1987, involving the DTI, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the BBC to investigate the feasibility of a fifth television service.

Three years later the 1990 Broadcasting Act was passed which required the IBA's successor, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), to establish a fifth terrestrial channel and to award the licence through a process of competitive tendering.  The intention was to increase the choice in free viewing available to the public and enhance competition in the commercial terrestrial market.

The Bid: 1

On 7th July 1992, a single bid was made by Thames Television.  The ITC expressed doubts whether the service proposed could be maintained throughout the ten year licence period and rejected the bid on 18th December 1992.

The Bid: 2

In May 1995 there was a second round of bidding with tenders made by the following consortia:

  • UKTV - CanWest Global Communications Corp., Scandinavian Broadcast System SA, SelectTV plc and The Ten Group Ltd

  • New Century Television - British Sky Broadcasting, Goldman Sachs, Granada Group, Hoare Govett, Kinnevik, Polygram, Really Useful Group and TCI International.

  • Virgin TV

  • Channel 5 Broadcasting - United News and Media plc (formerly MAI), CLT/UFA, Pearson plc and Warburg Pincus & Co.

Winning The Bid

The bid was won by Channel 5 Broadcasting on 27th October 1995, and the licence awarded on 12th April 1996.  This followed a judicial hearing where allegations by Virgin TV that they had been unfairly treated in the bidding process were rejected.

Channel 5 began broadcasting on 30th March 1997 and is the UK's last analogue network channel before the digital revolution.

Transmitting a fifth channel

The other four terrestrial channels are broadcast from more than 1,000 sites around the country using any of 44 ultra high frequency (UHF) channels numbering 21-34 and 39-68.  These have been allocated in a way as to avoid neighbouring transmitters interfering with one other.

UHF channels 35-38 were previously reserved and not available for broadcasting.  The first three were used for aeronautical radar and channel 38 is still reserved as a "quiet" channel for radio astronomy.

Using the existing 44 broadcasting channels, only 20% coverage could be achieved by a fifth terrestrial service by slotting into the gaps without interfering with the other four.  Since this was not commercially viable, it was decided to release some of the reserved frequency to allow increased coverage.  Radar equipment was subsequently cleared from channels 37 and 35.

To begin with, channel 37 was allocated for broadcasting the fifth terrestrial service, while channel 35 was reserved for a future national digital channel.  A transmission plan for Channel 5 was subsequently devised which achieved an estimated 70% population coverage.

In accordance with this plan, nine transmitter sites broadcast 5 on channel 37 and another 24 sites use a number of the 44 other UHF channels where they are free.

Reaching more of the UK - channel 35

Following a steady campaign by Channel 5 Broadcasting, in the Autumn of 1996, the Government also freed UHF channel 35 for use in broadcasting Channel 5.  This will boost Channel 5's coverage from 70% of the country to over 80% allowing a further 2 million households to watch its programmes.

The addition of channel 35 will also save an estimated one million people investing in a new aerial to receive Channel 5.

The extra frequency has been awarded for a minimum of five years, after which time the Government may require it for digital broadcasts.

The channel 35 transmitters are:

Bilsdale: The North East Yorkshire and County Durham regions
Darvel: The West Strathclyde region
Fenton: Stoke on Trent and the surrounding areas
Hannington: The Berkshire and North Hampshire regions
Kilvey Hill: Swansea and the surrounding areas
Ridge Hill: Gloucester, Hereford and the surrounding regions
Sudbury: The Suffolk and North Essex regions
Waltham: The Leicester and South West Lincolnshire regions
The Wrekin: The Shropshire region

It will not be possible to announce dates for stating broadcasting on channel 35 until the Government has secured international clearance to do so.  However, we hope this may be achieved by late Summer 1997

About retuning

The task

In areas receiving 5 on channels 37 or 35, the transmission was likely to cause interference in some homes.  This was because equipment such as VCRs and satellite or cable decoders would sometimes be pre-set to transmit their signals to TV sets using these previously reserved frequencies.

The problem had to be solved by visiting each affected home individually and re-tuning equipment to an alternative UHF channel, unused in that part of the country.  The task 5 faced was described as the largest house to house operation since the conversion to natural gas in the 1970's.

To undertake this enormous project, 5 recruited and trained over 6,500 retuners and 380 supervisors who collectively walked an estimated 11 million miles to retune 9.5 million homes free of charge.

Protecting the public

Sending thousands of retuners into millions of homes involved obvious security issues.  In consultation with senior police crime prevention officers, therefore, Channel 5 devised the following exhaustive retuning security measures to protect the public from bogus callers and confidence tricksters:

All relevant information was posted to households before re-tuners visited
Households were given a unique security code which re-tuners would match before entering the premises
Appointments for re-tuning were made where possible
Re-tuners wore clearly branded clothing
Re-tuners carried individually numbered identity cards linked to a unique password.  This could be verified by calling a security helpline number.

With the agreement of the Association of Chief Police Officers, all potential recruits were - with their consent - checked against police records for previous convictions

By the end of the project, it was clear that this Retuning Code of Conduct had been extremely effective in preventing security breaches in homes both in and out of retuning areas.

Receiving 5

When all 42 Channel 5 transmitters are operational by late Summer, 1997, 80% of the UK population will be within range of 5's terrestrial signal.

Homes do not require a visit from a retuner in order to receive Channel 5 - retuning was only needed in some areas to make sure 5's signal didn't interfere with video playback or satellite and cable viewing.

Most households can receive 5 by simply tuning in their fifth (or spare) button on their TVs to the frequency carrying the strongest signal in the area.  However, to receive an acceptable picture, some homes will need a new aerial or an aerial adjustment.

Although 5's signal doesn't reach every corner of the UK through normal land transmitters, the channel is carried by all major cable networks and is now available on satellite also.  This means it is possible to get 5 anywhere in the UK.

As a free-to-air channel, there is no subscription charge for 5, no matter how it is distributed.

What's new about 5?

5 is the first mainstream terrestrial commercial channel to launch in over forty years.  A lot has happened to the way people live their lives and their expectations of television, as both a consumer and a viewer.  5 acknowledges these changes by taking its place as the UK's first modern, mainstream TV channel.

It is 15 years since Channel 4 launched with its specific minority programming brief and over 40 years since ITV was launched as a commercial alternative to the BBC.  While satellite and cable have had an impact on the TV landscape, multi-channel pay-TV homes are still around 25% per cent of the total.

Increasingly viewers are demanding more choice.  With the advent of multi-channel subscription services the need has been growing steadily for a new channel that will increase choice without extra cost.

The whole style and personality, look and feel of 5 is distinctive and different to BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4, bringing a fresh new look to British television.  5 is modern, mainstream TV, combining popular appeal with a contemporary style.

The programme schedule is "stripped" and "stranded" making it easy to use and choose from.  The same kind of programmes are on at the same time each day allowing viewers to build an instant familiarity with the channel.

The schedule incorporates programmes that are often informative and always entertaining.  Over 60 per cent of programmes are new and less than 15 per cent are repeats.

5 will also continue to buy in an exciting variety of programming from around the world.  In particular, 5 has already demonstrated the ability to secure groundbreaking film deals with Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. as well as major sporting events like Chelsea's European Cup Winners Cup home games.

5 Highlights

Great Sport - with late night extreme sports, American baseball and if a great sports event is on the market, 5 will be pitching

Films 5 nights a week - movies are shown every week day night at 9.00pm, uninterrupted by the news.

Cutting edge news and current affairs - hourly updates keep viewers abreast of the days events as they happen while 5's main evening news programme, hosted by Kirsty Young, brings a fresh, new dimension to television news.

Great daily drama - 5 nights a week 5 brings viewers Britain's first original, daily soap, Family Affairs.  Produced by Pearson, which makes Neighbours, the show is overseen by former Brookside producer Mal Young

Great entertainment - late night chat show entertainment featuring Jack Docherty, followed by great new comedy shows.

5's Key People

David Elstein - Chief Executive - one of the most respected and influential figures in British television.  Previous jobs include Director of Programmes at Thames for seven years, and Programme Director at BSkyB for three years.

Dawn Airey - Director of Programmes - previous jobs include Director of Programming Planning at Central Television and Controller of Network & Daytime Programmes at ITV

David Brook - Director of Marketing - previous jobs include Marketing Manager for The Guardian

Nick Milligan - Director Of Sales - a respected face in the world of television advertising sales - other jobs include TVS, Central, Thames.

Damien Harte - Director of Finance - his first job in television

David Bergg - Controller of Planning and Acquisition - career includes Ulster TV, LWT, TV-am, GMTV, BBC

Tim Gardam - Controller of News, Current Affairs and Documentaries - career includes Editor of Newsnight, Editor of Panorama, and many documentaries for the BBC.

Corinne Hollingworth - Controller of Drama - Joined BBC Drama in 1979, becoming Producer of Eastenders in 1988

Alan Nixon - Controller of Entertainment - producer credits include The All New Alexei Sayle Show, Hale & Pace, Absolutely, Bob Monkhouse on the spot, Gag Tag.

Michael Attwell - Controller of Features and Arts - previous jobs include Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 for 5 years and a Producer at LWT.

Nick Wilson - Controller of Children's Programmes and Sport - previous positions include Editor of Children's and Youth Programmes at Granada Television, Editor of Children's Programmes at TV-am and Director of Programmes at The Children's Channel.

Adam Perry - Head of Regional Independent Productions & Special Events - career includes Researcher for Adult Education and Current Affairs at Yorkshire TV for 8 years.  Central Television  & Carlton UK Productions.

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All text and references above at found from a Channel 5 fact sheet sent upon request from Channel 5.
(C) Channel 5 Broadcasting 1997
Last Updated: 11 February, 2020