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 The channel was initially withdrawn to save money, but if the venture takes off, Desmond won't want to be left behind as others enter a new market.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.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.