…but Ford’s successor needs freedom to continue the turnaround, says Broadcast editor Lisa Campbell.
The BBC crisis has overshadowed a lot of other news. One item that didn’t get the attention it perhaps deserves is the appointment of Ben Frow at Channel 5.
Prior to the announcement, there were widespread fears in the indie community over Richard Desmond’s plans for the channel following Jeff Ford’s departure. Would he employ a lower-calibre replacement, a cheaper, inexperienced director of programmes, perhaps someone from his adult broadcaster, Portland TV? A yes-man, or woman, unlikely to challenge what we all know to be a vigorous boss?
There were even some suppliers wondering whether they’d ever pitch to C5 again – which is worrying, considering that, along with ITV, the channel has just had its licence renewed for another 10 years. Both invest some £800m a year in original content.
So the news that the post is to be taken up by former commissioner Ben Frow has prompted relief all round. Here is a man who, at his creative best, has been involved in some of the UK’s longest-running or most influential series, from Property Ladder to Cosmetic Surgery Live. He is old-school in the sense that he values well-made, quality programmes, and his background and sensibilities suggest that C5 is, indeed, in the market for decent ideas.
There are, nevertheless, question marks around just how well Frow will settle in to the C5 management culture. Few can imagine two more unlikely personalities coming together, and Frow is well known for being prepared to defend his corner with gusto. Despite this trait, there are concerns whether he will be given the breathing space needed to maintain the turnaround in fortunes instigated by Ford.
Ford’s achievements in two years are significant. He is widely credited with carving out a stronger identity for the channel, for empowering his commissioning team and for repairing some severely damaged relationships with suppliers. C5’s place on Broadcast’s Channel of the Year shortlist is testament to his tenacity.
Meanwhile, in a tough market, C5 is the only commercial family of channels to have increased audience share year on year, along with boosting audiences in the key 16-34 and ABC1 demographics. So Frow inherits a healthy business. Culture secretary Maria Miller, who renewed its licence this week, isn’t the only one hoping it stays that way.
What’s the point of the CDN?
The Creative Diversity Network held its annual awards last week to celebrate diverse content and off-screen initiatives. Did you know about them?
No, neither did we. This is not a complaint about not receiving an invite but about the woeful performance of the BBC as the current chair. While Channel 4 was extremely successful in bringing the work of the CDN to the mainstream, over the past year, under BBC management, the network has been largely silent.
No initiatives have been launched and if they have, again we’d like to know. Promised support for our Expert Women campaign has failed to materialise and the awards themselves are simply not talked about. If ever there was a time for the BBC to shout about something positive, it is now.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast