Five cuts programming budget by 25%

Five's chief executive Dawn Airey has revealed that the broadcaster's programming budget for this year has been cut by 25%.

Speaking at yesterday's Broadcasting Press Guild lunch, Airey said that Five's programming allowance for this calendar year stands at 165m, down by 55m on last year.

"We have been incredibly creative with limited resources," she told The Guardian. "We have reduced the budget by a total of 25% and we have done it without collapsing ratings or performance. We are doing really well. Don't write us off."

She revealed that the cuts have forced the organisation to be "really ruthless" with cash available for daytime and late night programming, as well as in renegotiating existing deals with suppliers.

This follows a report published this week by Ofcom which indicated that investment by public service broadcasters in UK-produced original programming has fallen from 3 billion in 2004 to 2.6 billion in 2008.

However, the watchdog also indicated that 63% of viewers perceived PSB channels as being well-produced and high quality in 2008, representing a four percentage points increase on previous figures.

Despite its budget cuts, Five's rating performance has increased year on year by 0.2% across its family of channels.

The broadcaster now plans to secure new children's and entertainment programming, including the recent acquisition of ABC drama Flash Forward.

It also intends to launch a new series from comedian Paul Merton, as well as broadcast the Sky News-produced Britain's Best Brain.

Alongside this, Airey indicated that Five is still "actively looking" at launching a standalone pre-school digital channel on the back of success of its Milkshake programming on Five.

Instead of paying for additional spectrum, though, she expects the channel to air on Five USA or Fiver in a similar way to which CBeebies shares spectrum with BBC Three and BBC Four.

"I had a meeting about it this week. The economics of it are quite compelling," she explained. "It is something we are still actively looking at. I suspect we will make a decision by the end of the year."

While stressing her belief that there will be further consolidation to come in the commercial broadcasting industry, Airey confirmed that Five was in discussions with BBC Worldwide about firming up a partnership.

It was recently reported that a separate joint venture deal between Worldwide and Channel 4 would be concluded imminently, but Five is keen to influence this process.

"We are talking to BBC Worldwide," said Airey. "We will not let Channel 4 have a free run with Worldwide on a joint venture."