Watching Channel 6

Channel 6 launched last year with a €14m investment, a €4m publicity campaign, and plans to conquer the lucrative but saturated 15-24 year market. Fourteen months on, it has only a 0.4 per cent share of the national market and just a two per cent share of the 15-24 year old market.

So what has gone wrong? Well according to the people at Channel 6, there is nothing wrong with their product. They have placed the blame on others. They partly blame their bad positioning on Sky's electronic programme guide, at channel 223, for their low audience ratings. They blame the low market-share figures on the Nielsen system which measures viewership, going as far as to call the system “junk”.

In fairness to Channel 6, many in the industry have a problem with the Nielsen system, which assesses just 600 homes on their viewing habits. There are plans to expand this base to 1,000 homes, however.  Fred O'Connell, general manager of AGB Nielsen Research Ireland, says the firm's measurement system is accurate and is subject to an outside audit.

A channel's electronic programme guide position can certainly be a hindrance. Also, these market-share figures are not up-to-date. The figures pre-date February, when Channel 6 became available on Sky, opening it to two-thirds of the market. Village asked Channel 6 for up-to-date audience figures but it did not supply them, although a spokesperson for Channel 6 said it recorded a 6.5 per cent share of the market in a recent week.

But the bosses are obviously concerned about their ratings. A recent announcement that they would start broadcasting soft porn on a Friday night was seen as a means to boost audience figures. The papers had a field day with headlines like: ‘It shows just how desperate Channel 6 must be, to resort to Europorn for the midnight slot'.

But the porn night didn't go to plan and had to be scrapped, most likely as a result of objections from investors.

Despite all of these negatives, Channel 6 does have a lot of going for it. It has an impressive array of backers. Its founders are Michael Murphy and Pat Donnelly: Murphy is a former Eircom executive and Donnelly owned the advertising company Carat Ireland – he reportedly sold his share in it for between €10m and €12m. Other investors include the Barry family from Cork, of Barry's Tea; Domhnal Slattery, chairman of plane-leasing company Lombard Aviation Capital and an investor in the Clare People; and two venture-capital funds have also invested, Delta Partners and ACT Venture Capital.

Channel 6 says it has a strong audience for some of its flagship shows – all imported from America – like Heroes and Brotherhood. But it has some stiff competition. The 15-24 year old market is already saturated with popular channels like MTV, Sky One, Channel 4 and E4. Outside television, there is competition from the internet and computer games.

The backbone of Channel 6 is imported shows from America. Although they do have exclusive distribution of some of them, many others are either are re-runs of old series like Friends and Sex and the City or are available on other channels.
Channel 6 was also keen, and still is, to develop home-grown talent, and is investing €2m in this. Two of the current Irish shows – Popscene and Nightshift – are doing “consistently well” and Nightshift was voted number-one music show by Hot Press.

But three other Irish-presented shows – Pop 6, Take 6 and Access Hollywood – have been axed.

The channel has attracted some big advertisers, including Budweiser, Vodafone, and some motoring companies. Advertising around such shows as The Sopranos, Brotherhood, Curb Your Enthusiasm or My Name is Earl costs €175 per 30-second slot.

Channel 6 is talking to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland about setting up an additional two channels, a music channel and Channel 6+1, which will be one hour behind Channel 6, like E4+1.

When it launched, Channel 6 was hoping to break even by year four, and by its sixth year, attract in excess of €10m a year in advertising sales and sponsorship revenue, generating operating profits of €9.2m.

But if this doesn't happen, it won't be their fault. Pat Donnelly has said that Sky is selling advertising air time too cheap in Ireland, making it harder for others to bring in the revenue.