SHAKE-OUT TIME FOR TV WEAKLINGS

By | August 15, 2001 | Feature

Chris Forrester Editor

The UK multichannel broadcast scene has had a bad two weeks. Pay-per-view service U Direct, Wellbeing, a JV channel from Granada TV and Boots laid off some 75 per cent of its staff in July. Then the Taste Network, a JV ‘lifestyle’channel and matching website from Carlton TV and Sainsbury’s (a foodretailer) was axed after barely 11 months on air and wiping out an GBP10million investment.

The e-commerce and advertising downturn meant Taste – and Wellbeing – werelosing small fortunes and the owners seemed nervous to add extra funding. Advertisers’ lack of confidence in Taste TV was vindicated when it emerged that its Anthea Turner-fronted show scored zero ratings on Wednesday of last week, as did the rest of its programming during the ten hours it was on air. Taste was in essence a rebranding exercise of Carlton’s Food Network that again failed to set the world alight. Chief Executive Antony Ellis will stay on to undertake a review of the Carlton Food Network.

There must be some concern at the other upcoming food and lifestyle channels in the planning, not least UK Food from Flextech/Telewest, slated for later this summer. The U Direct (which traded as the ‘digital broadcasting company’) closure is even more of a worry. Shareholders reportedly withdrew funding even though one highly placed official at the service claimed it was within “months of breaking even”. U Direct was backed by Pearson TV, Deutsche Bank and investment outfit Nomura.

In April dbc postponed its planned GBP50 floatation, talking at the time of its intention to seek a fresh IPO date later this year. Some GBP30 million was invested in total. In terms of sales it is reported that dbc had some 800,000 ‘buys’ leading to revenues of GBP2.4m in total since service commenced in the summer of 1999. COO Roger Hall says he was saddened by the investors’ decision to cease support for the service: “We had a business plan we believed in and a company which was trading well. This was a new business that required [further] funding to take it to breakeven.”


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