Indies expect Five to swing back into action with incoming channel controller Richard Woolfe splashing the cash on a handful of statement shows.

Five's £235m programming budget is expected to edge down this year but sources believe the broadcaster has been holding back funds for a spending spree when Woolfe joins on Monday. He has already lined up some meetings with producers.

Mentorn Media chief executive John Willis said: “I'm sure Five will have been saving some money - I don't think you hire a new controller without a budget.”

Five has had a dramatic slowdown in commissioning since chief executive Lisa Opie exited last May - although it has ordered a steady trickle of fast-turnaround docs in the past few months since the arrival of chair and chief executive Dawn Airey.

Producers now expect Woolfe to implement a “fewer, bigger” strategy, with a heavy emphasis on entertainment and celebrities.

Talkback Thames chief executive Lorraine Heggessey said: “Noisy doesn't necessarily mean expensive. If someone has the wherewithal, then it's Richard. He may want to go in with some signature shows to show his intention.”

Although Woolfe joins from the relatively well-funded Sky 1, the industry expects him to work creatively within tight budgets at Five. Advertiser-funded programming is thought to be on the agenda in primetime.

September Films creative director of entertainment Steve Carsey added: “I don't think budget will be a problem because Richard is good at ‘fewer, bigger'. He can spot a hit and is good at knowing which shows can be reinvented - just look at Gladiators.”

Their predictions tally with Airey's pledge last month that Woolfe will have the money to make his mark on the channel, and restore a “sense of immediacy, irreverence and fun”.

“The building blocks for that strategy are already being put in place ... and Richard Woolfe will have the resources to build on that,” she told the RTS.

Indies also expect Woolfe to boost morale at the channel, and draw a line under nearly a year of instability.

Twofour Broadcast managing director Mel Leach said: “The axe has been hanging over all their heads for so long now but the first thing Richard Woolfe will do is to say, ‘Come on guys, let's kick some ass.'”

Waiting For Woolfe - the indie verdict

Graham Stuart, managing director, So Television
“Richard needs to bring back the three F's to Five. That's F'ing comedy, F'ing entertainment, F'ing now.”

Liam Hamilton, business development director, DCD Media
“Five doesn't have many ‘names', so I expect he will spread a little stardust around.”

Malcolm Gerrie, chief executive, Whizz Kid Entertainment
“Budgets will be tight, and they will be looking for ways to square the circle. We will see interesting deals for entertainment shows.”

Jane Lush, joint managing director, Splash Media
“When a channel gets someone new, it creates a fresh impetus - everyone wants to impress.”

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