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Richard Desmond gets his timing spot on with purchase of Five

“Bring me lucky generals,” said Napoleon. One wonders quite what l’empereur would have made of the !8th century equivalent of Richard Desmond (they’d probably have got on famously) but Dessie, who recently paid £103m for UK terrestrial broadcaster Five, seems to have the quality Napoleon so admired in spades.

Five’s former owner RTL said today that the station will make a profit for the first time ever even without Desmond’s cost-cutting and promotion in his newspapers, Channel 4’s contract with Big Brother expires this year (the last show in the UK was last night and pulled in a four million audience) so BB is an obvious target for Five and the television ad market is booming merrily away with latest forecasts of big monthly increases right through to December.

Plus Desmond has already sacked most of the board, is in the process of culling the staff and has placed Five’s glossy Covent Garden, London, HQ on the market at a time when prestige London property prices are also booming.

At this rate he’ll get his £103m back before making a programme of his own.

So is Dessie, who also owns Express Newspapers and OK! magazine, just lucky?

He would say he makes his own luck of course and it’s certainly true that he steps in where others fear to tread. The likes of Channel 4 and Sky sat on their hands when Five came on the market and BB producer Endemol, which did show some interest, is burdened by huge debts.

It’s rather like Desmond’s purchase of Express; loads of companies had had a go at running the once-mighty newspaper empire over the past few decades and all of them had given up, nursing much-depleted wallets.

And people thought he was mad when he took on the apparently unassailable Spanish-owned Hello in the celebrity market. But OK! is now far bigger in the UK with a substantial presence in the US.

What will the rascal think of next?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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