What will Richard Desmond do with Channel 5?

Now he’s purchased the channel, what changes can we expect to see?

Richard Desmond bought Channel 5 for £103.5m on Friday, but ever since the deal was first hinted at, speculation has been rife about what direction he might take with the broadcaster. Here's what we know so far.

First, let's put to rest the idea that it will be filled with pornography as soon as Desmond takes over. As a terrestrial channel, Five is obligated to provide news and current affairs programming, and cannot transform itself into an X-rated paradise. Desmond might have made a fortune out of Television X (the Fantasy Channel) and Red Hot, but he's going to have to keep the two separate or risk the wrath of the regulators.

In fact, he has insisted that he will not be taking the channel "downmarket", but instead plans to invest £1.5bn over the next five years. Big Brother, Panorama, Coronation Street and The X Factor are all programmes he has said he would like to see broadcast by his new acquisition.

We could well see a change of name, though. In an appearance on Live From Studio Five shortly after the sale was agreed, Desmond hinted that he would be dropping the "Five" brand and reverting to the original name of "Channel 5", though he did say "you'll have to talk to the chief executive" about any definite name change.

Although Channel 5 has performed badly in the past, it does have a couple of popular imports, notably Neighbours and CSI. Keeping hold of these will be vital to building a new audience.

Roy Greenslade, in his Evening Standard column, suggests that Desmond will attempt to mirror his success with OK! magazine by featuring more celebrity programming and seeking more star presenters. Perhaps he will even attempt to forge links between magazine and television by inviting those who appear in the pages of OK! to follow up with a TV appearance on Channel 5.

We can certainly expect him to attempt to cross-promote his different media outlets. European legislation prevents him from advertising his newspapers (the Daily Express, the Daily Star and associated Sunday titles) on television, but there is no reason why he can't promote Channel 5 in the newspapers. Given the Murdoch empire's success in combining print and television, Desmond is bound to follow suit.

Another possibility is that he will cough up the £115m required for the station to rejoin the internet TV platform Project Canvas. The channel was initially withdrawn to save money, but if the venture takes off, Desmond won't want to be left behind as others enter a new market.

Despite Desmond's plans for big investment, he is also going to have to cut costs if he wants to move the channel forward. In line with this, it is rumoured that Channel 5 will be moving from its base in the West End to the new proprietor's own office in the City.

Finally, I hear from a Daily Express insider that the cost-cutting agenda has become the butt of many a joke in the office. I understand:

The running joke at the Daily Express is that Channel 5 is going to be nothing but a DVD player in a week.

You heard it here first.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.