Five Promises ‘Astounding’ Acquisitions

That’s what CEO Dawn Airey told senior managers at a group meeting this morning. Richard Desmond, Five’s new owner, told Sky News that he’s planning to invest £50-100 million ($77-155 million) in Five’s schedule. He can afford it. The Sunday Times Rich List has estimated his personal fortune to be just under £1 billion.

But before Hollywood executives start popping the California champagne, they should know Desmond plans to renegotiate some of Five’s studio deals. This is because many of Five’s current studio deals are loss-making. It has to pay out every time it screens a movie, rarely making enough ad revenue back to cover the cost.

Desmond has underlined his desire to keep US shows such as CSI though as well as Australian soap Home and Away. Indeed, he doesn’t have an option with Home and Away. Five is tied into a lifetime deal for the soap.

Other programming ideas mooted include reviving BBC pop chart show Top of the Pops and taking Big Brother over from Channel 4, splitting revenue with Endemol. Desmond’s papers have a strong relationship with the reality show. Forget Afghanistan or the economic crisis: the front page of tabloid Daily Star always splashes with what’s going on inside the Big Brother house.

Airey told senior managers this morning that Desmond’s team from his company Northern & Shell are going to spend several weeks getting to know the business before making any decisions about the channel’s future direction.

However, Airey said key to the acquisition was N&S’s desire to exploit its celebrity magazines such as OK! to “underwrite, create and produce” programmes with its own stable of stars. These include former model Jordan, her pop star husband Peter Andre and Kerry Katona, another ex-chanteuse with a car crash personal life. Their lives are pored over week-by-week in Desmond’s weeklies.

Desmond told Sky that over the next week or so, OK! and each of the colour magazines which come with his daily and Sunday newspapers will be carrying an eight-page promotion for Five and its programme line-up. Desmond said this would be the equivalent of £20 million of marketing spend “something Five wasn’t able to do under the previous owners”.

Desmond’s £103.5 million deal to buy Five is understood to be more than double what the next bidder was prepared to pay. Other bidders included Channel 4 and a consortium led by Endemol founder John De Mol. As with his acquisition of his flagship Daily Express newspaper in 2000, Desmond has swooped in with a relatively low cash offer to an owner under pressure to sell.

Airey told staff in an email sent out moments after the acquisition that Five and Northern & Shell – whose vaguely totalitarian company motto translates as “nothing is too difficult for the strong” — both shared the same ethos.

Airey said: “We both want to win and that’s precisely what we’re going to do.”

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