Channel 5’s evening news offering will be able to “cover more stories in greater depth” after Ofcom granted it permission to alter its provision.
Channel 5, which is owned by ViacomCBS, will replace its two 30-minute news bulletins at 5pm and 6.30pm with one hour-long programme starting at 5pm.
It has not yet confirmed a start date but the changes are expected to come this autumn and will come with an increased headcount and budget from the channel.
5 News editor Cait Fitzsimmons said: “The channel has committed to an increased budget and a higher headcount to make sure this is a properly resourced hour of quality news.
“While the programme will keep the energy and pace of the existing 5pm bulletin, the extended duration will allow space and resource for investigations and in-depth coverage of stories.”
The channel told Ofcom its 5pm news slot, anchored by Sian Williams (pictured), attracts “harder-to-reach” demographics such as women in the lowest socio-economic group and that the 6.30pm bulletin was largely a repeat of the earlier programme anyway.
BARB figures from the first quarter of 2020 show Channel 5’s 5pm bulletin averaged 324,000 viewers compared to 122,000 at 6.30pm.
In addition, the 6.30pm bulletin has an audience share of 0.72% and is up against the BBC regional news (30%) and ITV Evening News (21%), according to figures submitted by ITN.
Channel 5 said an expanded 5pm bulletin would “add breadth and depth to coverage” and therefore benefit public service broadcasting news provision. There will now be a seamless provision of news on PSBs between 5pm and 8pm.
Under the licence conditions approved by Ofcom Channel 5 will still air 280 hours of news per year but will only have to air 20 hours per year of news, down from 120 hours, in the peak hours between 6pm and 10.30pm.
Channel 5 generally airs brief news bulletins at 7.55pm and 8.55pm.
Ofcom said having an hour-long programme “will allow Channel 5 News to examine and unpack stories in greater detail, which would be of general benefit to audiences. It could also help Channel 5 deliver on its public service remit in relation to the provision of a range of high-quality and diverse programming, and to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.”
However, according to the National Union of Journalists staff have been told the two-minute package format will remain, which it said undermines the channel’s “assertion that [the] new schedule will allow investigative and in-depth reporting”.
The NUJ had also argued the current operation is run on a “shoestring” with a headcount of fewer than 50 journalists and production staff and that they would now have to produce double the number of stories as they will no longer be able to repeat any.
“The staff are constantly being told that money is tight, and they have no evidence to show that that there will be significant investment in the new programme,” the NUJ told Ofcom. “Indeed, they have been told to expect to cover more weather and royal stories.”
The union called for Ofcom to secure “binding guarantees” from Channel 5 “that it will invest in its newsgathering and production teams so it can provide the volume and quality of stories and packages for the new format and thus carry out its remit and gain the advantages of being a PSB”.
Channel 5’s commissioning editor for unscripted, Daniel Pearl, acknowledged that the new format “necessitates more investment in our news coverage” and said this will be forthcoming.
“This is in line with our wider programming strategy to transform Channel 5’s schedule across all genres,” he said.
“5 News’s extended format will rely on more staff and resources and we are working to get those in place as the new programme takes shape.”
Ofcom said it will continue to keep Channel 5’s news provision, consumption and spend under review as it does for all the public service broadcasters.
ITN, which has produced 5 News almost continuously since 1997, said the revised programme would increase the scope of its journalism and therefore increase its appeal to viewers.
Around 60% of the 5pm bulletin’s viewers are currently women, while the programme also skews more towards younger audiences and those from the DE socio-economic group (including semi-skilled/unskilled manual jobs and those on state benefits) than other early evening news programmes.
ITN said focus groups had recently found that female audiences are likely to watch only one news programme per day, so extending the duration will “expand the amount of quality news content targeted directly at them”.
It also said the new programme would “focus the team’s newsgathering resources at a time when it is able to serve the largest share of audience” and let 5 News “adapt and develop at a time when audience habits are changing”.
Picture: 5 News screenshot