Ofcom has approved major changes to Channel 5’s output. As a result, the broadcaster will be able to screen an hour-long news programme at 5pm.
The broadcast regulator reduced Channel 5’s obligation to show news between 6:30pm and 10:30pm. Effectively immediately, Channel 5 only needs to broadcast 20 hours of news per year during prime-time. This will be covered by short news updates.
Approving the change, Ofcom said “while the change will result in Channel 5 broadcasting less than a quarter of the hours of peak-time news compared to what is currently stipulated in the licence condition, the total amount of news that Channel 5 is required to broadcast per year will remain at 280 hours.”
Channel 5 sought changes to its broadcast licence terms so it could replace its separate 30 minute bulletins at 5pm and 6:30pm with a single early evening bulletin.
Until now, Channel 5 has struggled to find a long-term timeslot for its primetime news bulletins. Channel 5 first launched with an evening news bulletin at 8:30pm. In time this moved earlier in the evening. The 6:30pm bulletin puts it up against stiff competition against regional news on BBC One, which often scores its highest ratings and the ITV Evening News. Channel 5’s 6:30pm in contrast regularly only attracted a 0.72% audience share.
In its application to Ofcom, Channel 5 said the 5pm bulletin attracts ‘harder to reach’ audiences such as women in lower socioeconomic groups. It also said the 6:30pm bulletin is largely a repeat of the earlier bulletin.
The extended 5pm bulletin will launch this autumn.
ITN, who produce the bulletins on behalf of Channel 5, told Ofcom it approved of the changes. Concerns over how the changes were going to be implemented were raised by the National Union of Journalists. It said the operation was already being run on a shoestring. It told Ofcom that content would need to be doubled to fill the hour slot. That’s despite journalists at the broadcaster being told there was no extra money. Currently, content on the first 30 minute bulletin is repeated at 6:30pm.
The Voice of the Listener and Viewer also approved of the change, highlighting it would mean continuous news on one or other of the public service channels from 5pm to 8pm each night.
Channel 5’s news bulletins revolutionised the presentation of UK television news when it launched in 1997 with the introduction of standing-up news presenters and short news bulletins through the evening.