Channel 5 is hitting pause on most commissioning until the autumn to buy commissioners “thinking time” and has highlighted 9pm as a stress point in its schedule.
Speaking at the Wales Screen Summit, Ben Frow, chief content officer of C5 owner Paramount UK, said the broadcaster will “slightly take our foot off the commissioning pedal over the summer” after spending an “insane” amount on content in the first few months of the year.
“There’s a lot of reining in and doubling down and intense consideration about every decision we make - where do we spend the money, how do we spend the money,” he said.
"So we're probably going to just relax a little bit over the summer when it goes a bit quieter, because I need to save money to make sure the autumn schedule is really strong. We've got Christmas and I need to make sure Q1 next year is in place. Once you get to September, you start spending next year’s money.
“We've got to hang around for three months or so, tread water for a little bit, do some development, have a few conversations, thinking time is no bad thing. Commissioners have very little thinking time.”
Frow said C5 has been “really challenged” at 9pm recently and has had to pull shows commissioned for 8pm, including Motorway Cops and The Big Steam Adventure, to the later slot to fill gaps. This has put the 8pm shows in a “vulnerable” position as they are not always “robust” enough for 9pm.
The executive also said he was “amazed” at how few “creative conversations” indies were prepared to have about finding solutions to problems, observing that too often, discussions turned quickly from pitching ideas to “fraught” debates.
"If I want a show, I will do whatever I can to make it work,” he said. “I would ask of indies – big, small, whatever: How can we find a way to do it? Don’t go down the traditional path – if we’d gone down the traditional drama path, we’d all be bankrupt. It wasn’t going to happen, we couldn’t have afforded it.
“Please open yourselves to having a creative conversation – if we want the idea, we will work with you to find a way to make a programme work.”
Frow also spoke of his plans to emulate BBC2's Monday nights by pairing upcoming 8pm quiz show Puzzling with Lucy Worsley with 'soft history' shows at 9pm. He did not specify on which day of the week the new show would air.
Meanwhile, deputy chief content officer Sebastian Cardwell said C5 would upscale its drama commissions, which have typically been four parts and often stripped Monday to Thursday, to six-parters from next year.
Having established itself as a drama player with stories centred on “collective anxiety”, he said C5 was now in a position where distributors were more willing to back more ambitious pieces and bigger talent was wanting to work with the broadcaster. Four-parters are also becoming harder to sell, particularly to the US, he added.
Dramas may start to air weekly, Cardwell said, or in some cases, an episode might be dropped on the channel and then released in full on its on-demand platform My 5.
These are set to include serialised returning crime dramas and mystery thrillers, two-hour detective dramas to join the established – and returning – Dalgleish, and a major period drama, currently slated for late 2024. On top of that, at least one of the four-parters it has aired is likely to come back for a second, six-part, series.