Image: Channel 5
Image: Channel 5
Since Viacom bought Channel 5 just under two years ago the broadcaster has gobbled up a number of top US shows including Gotham and the spectacular-looking X-Files revival but good shows alone won’t boost the channel’s audience figures.Buying expensive, premium content and then airing it in terrible picture quality is not an approach which will grow audiences.

At the moment anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Sky or Virgin Media – that’s approximately 3m BT and TalkTalk homes, 2m Freesat homes and around 10m Freeview homes – can only watch Channel 5’s content in non-HD.

Those roughy 13m homes (Freeview, BT and TalkTalk) receiving the channel via the aerial have to make do with an especially poor quality smear-o-vision version.

This is because Channel 5, unlike Channel 4 and ITV, decided to pass up the opportunity to launch a terrestrial version of its HD channel and instead sign deals to launch only on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms.

This strategy no doubt provides the broadcaster with a regular line of revenue but it also reduces the attractiveness of its content in the eyes of millions of viewers, many of whom will never watch the poor quality standard definition version they’re fobbed off with.

Whenever this topic comes up you can guarantee someone will say: ‘If you want the best picture quality, pay for it’.

But with HD versions of BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4 and ITV all available without subscription how likely is that people would sign-up to an expensive pay-TV deal just to watch Gotham?

Wouldn’t they be more likely – assuming they don’t just download an illegal copy – to skip the TV broadcast and buy the Blu-ray or wait for it to arrive on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

Buying expensive, premium content and then airing it in terrible picture quality is not an approach which will grow audiences.

If Viacom truly wants to boost viewing figures – something which has eluded every previous owner yet is essential to seeing a return on its investment – it’s going to have to bring Channel 5 HD outside the paywall.



  1. J Cassady says

    All very well, but Channel 5 can’t be compared with the other terrestrial channels as it operates without any public funding and with a fraction of the budget.

    The cost of broadcasting in HD is around £15,000,000 per year, a very sizable chunk of money that could be spent on aquisitions and original programming. It is also a bill that the likes of Sky and Virgin are happy to foot in exchange for HD exclusivity.

  2. Kev mull says

    Standard definition freeview is starting to become unwatchable with the advent of 4K TVs. There’s just too much upscaling to do.
    You can get away with some good quality, well lit studio content on the ‘stronger’ channels but the drama and movies on weaker channels like channel 5 and Film Four can look awful. I rarely watch them and i’m sure i’m not alone in this. Surely if 4k takes off it would be time for SD interlaced broadcast to be (finally!) HISTORY.