Richard Desmond has only been in charge of Five (or Channel 5 as it’s likely to become once again) for a month or so but he’s already picked two fights, with UK industry marketing body Thinkbox and Elizabeth Murdoch’s production company Shine.
So far the score is one each, Desmond is going pull out of Thinkbox (which will save him some money) but has agreed to pay the formidable Ms Murdoch (daughter of Rupert and husband to PR maven Matthew Freud) the £1m or so he owed Shine for talent show Don’t Stop Believing.
Elizabeth Murdoch had threatened to sue Desmond but the equally feisty media owner (he also owns Express Newspapers and OK! magazine) has given way, after looking at the ‘accounts’ for the show. This probably means the bill.
But Desmond has put down a marker for other production companies and indeed suppliers of all kinds to the effect that if their services don’t produce the returns he expects don’t expect to be paid – or not straightaway anyway. It’s only a small step from this to a system of payment by results for independent producers, just about their worst nightmare as nobody really knows which shows are going to work.
Don’t Stop Believing was a sort of X Factor on the cheap, hosted by former Spice girl Emma Bunton. Alas it failed to measure up to the Simon Cowell juggernaut on ITV.
As for Thinkbox it has actually performed remarkably well under uber-enthusiast Tess Alps. But Alps, though undeniably forceful, is hardly as formidable as an angered Murdoch and Desmond will be confident he can do without its marketing assistance.
He’s already made it clear that his strategy (a good one) is to cross-sell and cross-promote Five and his print interests.
But picking a fight with a Murdoch is not a good thing to do. When a number of UK media owners entered the lists against the Murdochs recently by objecting to a bid by News Corporation for all of the Sky pay-TV company Desmond was conspicuous by his absence (as indeed was ITV).
Maybe even Desmond is learning.