Screen Deaths

Dominic Small examines why TV channels die

First published August 2009

There was a time in the pre-digital era that the launch of a channel was a big deal, attracting national attention and significant press coverage (Channel 4 in 1982, the Sky service on Astra in 1989, and the arrival of Channel 5 in 1997). However, the increased capacity offered on digital services has since meant that new channels have arrived on virtually a weekly basis. Not all of them, though, have stuck around…

Whereas none of the five mainstream UK channels has ever permanently closed, multichannel services have undergone a raft of alterations. While, in some cases, this has simply involved rebranding or relaunching an ongoing service, in some cases channels have been closed down entirely – sometimes to make way for replacement services, and in other cases replaced only by dead air, such as in the recent collapse of sports broadcaster Setanta. Here is a look at when, how and why channels have decided to pull down the fader.

1. CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Channels binned as part of a relaunch or re-purpose

As noted elsewhere, some channels are sacrificed so their space can be used for a new or relaunched station. The BBC’s early digital channels – rerun-heavy entertainment station BBC Choice and documentary service BBC Knowledge – were retooled to become BBC3 and BBC4, mixed-genre services broadcasting a range of entertainment and factual shows.

The original analogue Sky 2 lasted barely a year before being dumped in favour of National Geographic Channel, but Sky have since returned to sister channels with the current digital Sky 2. Virgin Media-owned, Freeview-carried entertainment network Ftn was absorbed into the larger, better-funded Virgin 1 in 2007; Virgin had earlier pulled Challenge sister channel Player from the air to free up a slot for Bravo 2. Sky-run analogue satellite service The Comedy Channel – launched to use up some of the rights they’d bought in their takeover of BSB – disappeared after BBC shows to UKTV Gold, with the Comedy space re-used to expand Sky’s film channel provision to a third channel (Sky Movies Gold, as was).

UK Gold Classics, launched in 1998, was successively replaced by UK Gold 2 (1999), UKTV G2 (2003) and Dave (2007).The day of the Dave launch also spelt the end for lifestyle channel UKTV Bright Ideas.

In the world of sport, channels have sometimes moved away from their original remit in order to boost the amount of live coverage they can carry. This has included the withdrawal of Eurosport News from the UK in favour of Eurosport 2, and the closure of Sky Sports Gold as a channel, and its replacement with Sky Sports 3. In both these cases, the new services  continued to carry the previous format as a programming block within (although Eurosport News continues as a channel in some international territories).

In the documentary category, Discovery Wings was closed down in favour of the wider-briefed Discovery Turbo. This change also saw the axe falling on Discovery Kids.

Speaking of kids’ TV, Toon Disney was given the boot to free up a slot for premium film channel Disney Cinemagic, and the entertainment-category cartoons/drama hybrid CNX dumped the grown-up content to focus solely on kids’ shows as Toonami – though this has itself now been binned and replaced by CN Too. CSC Media’s kids channel POP has launched several subsidiary channels, some of which have made changes – POP Plus (which despite the name was not a timeshift of the main channel) became the current Tiny Pop, and later POP +1 (which was a timeshift!) gave up its place to Kix. CSC has also made changes to its group of music channels, most notably ditching indie music-orientated The Amp in favour of the melodic Bliss, and later dumping the raunchy Minx to bring indie back through NME TV.

Elsewhere, during its run as a premium channel, FilmFour launched spinoffs FilmFour World and Extreme – designed to build on successful elements of the main channel’s provision – but these were later replaced by the cheaper-to-run, same-films-all-week concept FilmFour Weekly, itself closed as part of FilmFour’s transformation into the free Film4 in 2006.

Some channels have been replaced, not by new channels, by timeshifts of existing properties: Trouble becoming Living +2, Zone Reality Extra becoming Zone Horror +1, and most recently Nicktoonsters being replaced by Nicktoons Replay. These changes are likely to have been made in order to replace a failing channel with a subsidiary which can support a more successful sister station.

2. STOP ME AND BUY ONE: Channel closures and changes through a merger or takeover

When a channel (or group of channels) is bought out by another operator, the new keyholder may exert their influence by making changes. An early example of this was the purchase of Superchannel – originally set up by the ITV regional companies – by American broadcaster NBC, which saw its  previous content and branding stripped away over time, and eventually being dumped altogether in favour of NBC Europe, which later scaled back to focus on Germany and eventually closed entirely.

Dow Jones-backed finance news channel EBN, meanwhile, also got a touch of the NBC treatment when it was absorbed into CNBC.

But perhaps the biggest single merger-related identity crisis was one of the first: when Sky bought BSB, and set about cutting the cord on three of BSB’s five channels – Galaxy, Now and The Power Station, which were replaced on Marcopolo by Sky One, Sky News and Sky Movies until the Marcopolo satellite itself was switched off at the end of 1992. However, one element of BSB’s portfolio  is still on air, as The Sports Channel became the current Sky Sports 1. Following the addition of Sky Sports to Astra, another satellite sports network – Screensport – joined forces with rival Eurosport in 1993, in an attempt to provide stronger competition to Sky’s channel.

More recently, a number of struggling small channels have made a quick buck selling off their slots to larger operators – Hollywood TV being replaced by UKTV’s Watch +1, Life TV flogging three of its Sky guide slots to Channel 4 (allowing room for C4 +1 and C4 HD to go on air), Sumo TV selling its original high placement on Sky to Discovery’s DMAX, and Urban TV selling its slot for BET +1. Smaller versions of Life and Sumo have since returned in new slots.

3. I CAN’T SEE YOU BUT YOU CAN SEE ME: Channels with limited visibility or carriage on small platforms

Some channels have died out with virtually nobody mourning their passing: not because they were bad ideas per se, but because the platforms they were broadcast on were not large enough to bring sufficient eyeballs to the stations. In the analogue era, Cartoon Network shared a slot with TNT Classic Movies on satellite. On cable, where there was more space, Cartoon had a 24-hour run with TNT as a separate channel, blank outside TNT’s hours.

When digital services rocked up, the 24/7 Cartoon Network was made available, but TNT was not ported across. Later, the cable TNT slot was replaced by an all-day classic movies channel, TCM, which was also available in digital. Following this, the analogue satellite TNT continued as a drama, sport and movies service (basically loads of basketball and The Dukes of Hazzard). However, as this was only on analogue satellite, TNT continued to decline. It was eventually closed altogether, replaced by a cut-down TCM, until the removal of UK-focused channels from analogue satellite in 2001.

With satellite and Freeview the dominant platforms in UK digital broadcasting, channels which are solely on cable will struggle to get a significant audience – this was what led to the entertainment reviews channel SceneOne and film channel The Studio, failing.

While Freeview may dominate now, its predecessor on DTT, ONdigital/ITV Digital was a much smaller endeavour, and this was reflected in the poor ratings for channels on the platform. Whereas Granada had no qualms about getting in to bed with Sky, their ONdigital partner Carlton stuck their colours steadfastly to the DTT mast, which resulted in their channels Carlton Select, Carlton Kids, Carlton World and Carlton Cinema being absent from satellite – at the time the clear leader in digital installations – and thus playing to a tiny audience. It’s therefore unsurprising that the Granada digital channels outlived their Carlton compatriots (Granada Plus remained until November 2004, when it was absorbed into ITV3;; Men and Motors is still on air).

The demise of ITV Digital also saw the fall of the ITV Sport Channel, which sent shockwaves through the football world as many small clubs had banked on recieving income from the service, and of pay-per-view service ITV Select.

4. IT’S THE YEAR 2000, IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE?: Channels which fail despite best efforts

Unlike the above category, some channels do secure carriage on a sufficient number of receivers, but not enough viewers have made plans to tune in. Aside from the aforementioned ITV Select, another attempt to unseat Sky Box Office’s dominance of pay-per-view came with the launch of u>direct, which was carried on the digital satellite platform alongside SBO. However, u>direct had fewer broadcast channels and thus a smaller range of movie titles than Sky’s own operation, ultimately leaving the newcomer second best.

Elsewhere, Disney launched family comedy, drama and entertainment station abc1 (taking its name from the US ABC network owned by the company). The channel had some availability issues: on Freeview it was only accessible in the daytime (and not at all in Wales), and it was not widely carried on cable and satellite until nearly a year after its launch. abc1 did eventually make programmes available in the evening on Sky and cable, but there wasn’t the capacity to extend hours on Freeview,  and this damaged the channel’s ability to drum up an audience, with Disney pulling the plug less than two years.

Granada also had a good old go at the lifestyle market launching Granada Good Life – which transformed into Granada Breeze and remained on air until 2003 – alongside Granada Talk TV, which bit the big one after less than a year. Granada also teamed up with high street chain Boots for a health and lifestyle channel, Wellbeing, carried on Sky and ITV Digital during 2001, but this was deposed after a fairly short time (Boots maintained the web domain  before switching to the more logical

Another healthy channel that became anything but was the simply named Channel Health. It found itself parked next to bigger-hitting rival, Discovery Health on the Sky platform. The Discovery service (now Home & Health) eventually saw off its rival, though CH continued within medical premises for a while thereafter.

Other cases of a channel handing its crown to an unrelated rival include the Carlton Food Network (Taste-CFN, as it became), which died out on cable and ITV Digital just as UKTV Food (now Good Food) launched on Sky and cable, and The Racing Channel popping its clogs after a new deal gave most of the  rights to then-new competitor At The Races. Later, following a reshuffle at ATR prompted by Channel 4′s departure from the consortium, a new rival service, Racing UK, was established.

5. IF YOU LIKED THAT, YOU’LL LIKE THIS: Attempts at cross-media branding and corporate broadcasting

Before being established as a channel in its own right, Racing UK piggybacked on the now-defunct sports network iSports TV. The operation may not have had the status and size of Sky Sports, but it was notable for several attempts at cross-media broadcasting. For a short time, it formed an association with radio station talkSPORT, resulting in some of the station’s programmes simultaneously screening on TV (though that was little more than pointing cameras at the existing radio broadcasts). The same channel also signed a deal with gambling chain William Hill, but was not able to use the Hill name on air due to regulations  regarding the promotion of gambling on TV. Instead, the channel was renamed Channel425 after its position in Sky’s EPG.

The operation was one of a number  which aimed to link up with an existing radio, magazine or business brand. Classified ads magazine Exchange & Mart set up a TV channel to run a digital interactive version of its classifieds, but the plug was pulled on the broadcast station shortly after the sale of the magazine. Another magazine which attempted a move into TV was men’s title Nuts. Its channel, launched on Freeview and subsequently added to Sky, was initially a studio-based compendium of chat and features, later switching to a sequence of pre-recorded shows, and ultimately being binned altogether. Elsewhere, national radio station Classic FM launched a music video channel – which took over the Sky EPG slot of fallen rival Digital Classics – only to later pull out of the station, leaving their broadcast partner, Open Access, to run it as oMusic TV.

Even car manufacturer Audi also operated a TV channel for a time, described on its Ofcom licence as ‘self-promotional’ – it existed solely to plug Audi’s motors, no more, no less.

There are benefits and pitfalls to these kind of cross-brand strategies: the launch of such stations can bring TV viewers into your company’s other operation,  however, a channel which is unpopular or poor quality runs the risk of damaging the parent brand. Generally, it appears there have been more successes than failures here, as many of the channels which have launched as brand extensions from other media are still on air and successful – Smash Hits’ TV and radio stations even outliving the original magazine!

6. LOOKING SO CLOSE YOU MISSED THE BIG PICTURE: Stations focused on a particular niche audience or fad

The launch of multichannel TV services allowed capacity for stations to be developed which focused on particular audiences or programming genres. While there have been many successes (Sci-Fi Channel, Comedy Central, Good Food…), there are also a litany of operations which failed to succeed even within their niche. Indeed, a tightly-focused remit can be a curse as well as a blessing, as a service that talks to too specific an audience may find it hard to attract more general or casual viewers. Even one of the largest multichannel broadcasters – BSkyB, no less – has turned its back on niche broadcasting, closing their all-soaps service, Sky Soap, and subsequently their computing channel [.tv].

The UK operations of The Weather Channel were scrapped when it emerged viewers didn’t actually want 24/7 forecasts, preferring the frequent updates within rolling news channels – although, ironically, Sky and the BBC have both more recently added constant weather feeds to the red-button interactive offshoots of their news stations.

Sometimes the launch of a channel to cash in on a particular fad can lead to it becoming redundant when said fad fades, as not one but two poker-themed stations found out: PokerZone, which had itself replaced interactive gambling channel Game In TV, is now gone, as is The Poker Channel, which relaunched as wider-focused sports channel All In Sport (itself closed down mere weeks later).

Staying in the sports section, greyhound racing service GoBarkingMad went off air for several months, broadcasting only a looped promo, until eventually re-emerging under the new name Red Button Racing.. alas the off button was still pushed soon after. The Wrestling Channel – later known as TWCfight! and then as Fight Network – built up a much-lauded line-up of vintage events (including beat downs from the ITV World of Sport library) and new martial arts, but was kicked off the screen amid financial trouble.

Of course, nowadays instead of sporting in the ring, young people are more likely to be doing battle on the console or PC; however, it has proved difficult to make videogaming work on TV, as the cases of Game Network and XLeague.TV prove. Anime is another genre which has a strong youth following but hasn’t provided fruitful pickings for broadcasters. CSC Media’s digital channel Anime Central and rival Anime Network (the latter broadcast as a channel-within-a-channel on Propeller) both existed – and disappeared – around the same time.  CSC tried to stave off oblivion by broadening the appeal of their valuable slot in the Entertainment guide, adding a wider mix of content and relaunching the channel as Showcase TV (which has recently been renamed True Entertainment to tie in with CSC’s True Movies channels), while Anime Network had the backing of a major name in the genre – distributor ADV – but came to a halt when the firm decided to pull out of linear TV, also closing the Anime Network service in the US, believing that distributing programmes on DVDs and online would be more rewarding.

In music, country station CMT decided to launch into Europe after success in the US, however, as the market for country music over here is massively smaller than over there, the channel was not a hit and the plug was pulled. Edgy rock music channel p-rock tv had a strong groundswell of support from rock fans but the funding well soon ran dry. And musical instruction outfit Musicians Channel was swallowed by alternative culture station Redemption TV, which in turn gave up its place to Rockworld TV – though in this case some content from the preceding channels carried over into their replacements.

At the more refined end of the musical spectrum, arts and classical music channels have attracted acclaim but often find it hard to turn this into broader financial success. This led to UK Arena being retooled into UK Drama, the decline of Landscape from a dedicated channel to a filler on Channel 4 and later Friendly TV, and the decision by Performance to sell its two free-to-air channels to Sky, who used the slots for HD versions of their subscription Sky Arts services.

7. I’VE SEEN THE FUTURE AND IT’S EGG-SHAPED: Channels which were experiments or ahead of their time

Sometimes channels are developed as experiments – attempts to see if a new kind of service will work, or efforts by a broadcaster in one category to expand its operations into another field. In 1998, as part of its move into digital, UKTV extended its channel network to launch a new station aimed at young audiences. UK Play (later rebranded PLAYuk) featured music videos, youth culture documentaries and edgy comedy. However, while this made for an excellent, innovative channel, its dual music/comedy remit saw it fall between two stools. When it was listed in the music section of the EPG, the evening comedy programmes were some way away from comedy programmes on entertainment channels, putting Play’s humour at a disadvantage. Then, when UKTV moved the channel to the entertainment section, ratings for the music output fell as it was now too far away from other music stations to attract channel-hoppers. Eventually Play was put out of its misery, though its commitment to edgy entertainment lives on elsewhere: former Play controller Stuart Murphy later launched BBC3 and installed its commitment to new comedy and entertainment formats, while UKTV created an ‘edgy’ entertainment channel, UKTV G2 (now Dave) little over a year after Play’s demise.

Earlier, The Children’s Channel had pioneered an all-kids’ service in the UK, but by 1998 had been given the boot, with elements of its operation  split off into Trouble and Tiny Living as Flextech looked to rationalise its portfolio ahead of going digital.

Elsewhere, MTV experimented with the social networking phenomenon by launching viewer-controlled MTV Flux – itself a replacement for short-lived UK-created alternative-rock channel VH2. However, Flux’s mixed-genre portfolio went against MTV’s broader plan to ghettoise music content into narrow genre-led channels, with the result that the innovative channel Fluxed off within a year in favour of an MTV One timeshift.

Another notable example was Sound TV, launched by a group of entertainers including Chris Tarrant and Richard Digance. A general entertainment channel which tried to bring old-fashioned laughs back to telly, tt had lofty ambitions but its thin budget failed to support its aims.

Further up the dial, lifestyle channels are now so widespread they have their own section of the Sky guide, but one of the pioneers of the sector – a channel simply called Lifestyle and backed by WH Smith – has long since left the party. The operation had a music video jukebox service – under the Ronseal-ish title ‘Lifestyle Satellite Jukebox’ – which was similar to another service, Music Box, in which Yorkshire TV was involved. While both these channels are now off air, there are numerous similar stations today pumping out continuous music videos.

Shopping channel operator sit-up decided it wanted to ‘sit’ higher up in the EPG guide, and so launched two film channels – ‘matinee movies’ and ‘bad movies’ (like all sit-up’s channels, the names were spelt in lowercase). They weren’t serious attempts at unseating Sky’s dominance of the film channel sector – they principally consisted of a few cheap flicks and a total of six hours a day of simulcasts of the firm’s teleshopping presentations. However, this stint outside their traditional heartland ended when the two channels were sold to Dolphin Television and relaunched under their current Movies4Men identity.

Even in the relatively small field of interactive TV,  there have been similar experiments: multi-feature interactive service BrightBlue attempted to offer a rival to the existing Open… / Sky Active platform, but at a time when interactive TV was in its infancy, there just weren’t enough interested viewers to sustain both  and ultimately the future wasn’t bright for BrightBlue.

8. THIS IS A LOCAL SHOW FOR LOCAL PEOPLE: Stations and opt-out services tailored to a particular area

Many of the channels which have launched on multichannel TV are broadcast nationally and aim at a specific community of interest. Sometimes, however, the ‘community’ at which a station is aimed is a specific local or regional area.

Local broadcasting is an established format in radio, where the majority of operators are tailored to their broadcast area, but in TV it can be difficult to get a localised station off the ground, due to competition from national broadcasters: The nationwide networks are able to deliver a broader cross-country audience and attract big-ticket  advertisers, which local stations may find difficult to do. However, viewers have often indicated that content relevant to their area is important and so demand for local services is unlikely to go away entirely.

Some local stations have enjoyed significant success, such as Manchester-based Channel M, but many other attempts at local broadcasting have fallen away. The cable news station Channel One, based in various British cities, enjoyed a run of success until the high cost of the service, coupled with declining audiences as viewers turned to national stations like Sky News and BBC News, made it unviable.

The South of England had Solent TV, which provided a Channel M-like mix of content, and at its peak was a key competitor to Meridian and BBC South (indeed, with Meridian over time being absorbed into the homogenous ITV1 network, Solent began to look more local than their bigger rival!) However, Meridian was able to use its position to operate on a more secure financial footing, and Solent sank, closing shortly after being added to Sky Digital – its final day ending with the local news show (opening headline: “Insolvent TV”, a report on the channel’s own demise).

Even the UK’s capital couldn’t sustain its own channel, as evidenced by the removal of London TV from the Sky platform. The station broadcast a wide selection of magazine and feature shows with a strong tourist slant, but it was later decided  the service would be more viable delivered on-demand online and in hotels and taxis, rather than preaching largely to the converted on the home satellite system.

North of the border, STV has recently attempted to make its main service more relevant to viewers in Scotland by opting out of ITV1 more often.But back in 1996, Scottish TV teamed up with BSkyB for the analogue satellite service Sky Scottish, which offered two hours a night of news, sport and features, including additional editions of local news show Scotland Today. Sky Scottish was on air for just two years (it had two on-screen presentational styles in that time, thanks to Sky’s network-wide 1997 revamp), and was dropped in 1998 as part of Sky’s realignment of its channel portfolio ahead of the switch to digital satellite.

However, STV didn’t wait long before going back into multichannel. When ONdigital came along in late 1998, one of the channel spaces was reserved for a ‘subsidiary’ service to the ITV network. While Granada and Carlton decided to put out a single ‘ITV2′ in this space, STV and Northern Ireland’s UTV decided to do their own thing. This led to the creation of channels which mixed local archive programming, limited new productions and a handful of network shows. STV’s service went on air as ‘S2′ and UTV’s as ‘TV You’ (later ‘UTV2′). Both these services were given access to the network ITV2 schedule, initially as backup to locally-selected programmes; however, the local channels received poor viewing figures (they were only available on the little-viewed ONdigital system, not on cable or satellite providers). In time both services had become little more than simulcasts of ITV2 with the local logo overlaid and eventually STV and UTV struck separate deals with ITV to bring the ITV2 name to these regions. Since then, ITV’s subsidiary channels have been nationwide, even in those areas where the ITV1 brand is not used.

The BBC has also withdrawn digital from the regions. In its early years BBC Choice had a significant commitment to local programming, with the post-10pm programming able to opt out in any or all of the home nations to allow localised content. All four variants were broadcast on satellite, with the relevant version for your area on the main EPG number, and the others at the rear of the guide. On Freeview, the regionalisation of the BBC’s main multiplex allowed the correct local variant to be mapped to each transmitter. However, within a few years the regional Choice came to an end, as the Beeb decided to put the national variants of BBC2 onto digital instead (previously digital viewers had only a single national version of the channel). Some of the programmes that had aired on the Choice variants did move across to the new set-up, and later the regional variants of BBC1 (including the English regions) went digital, but Choice remained a single national station for the rest of its run. Today none of the BBC’s digital-only channels have any kind of regional opt-out system.

9. YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION: Channels fall due to controversy or legal problems

Sometimes, broadcasters have hit legal or regulatory problems, and occasionally these have been enough to pull the entire channel off the air. Shopping channel AuctionWorld was criticised for its use of inflated guide prices and its poor customer service record. It featured heavily on the BBC’s Watchdog programme, and after Ofcom and the DTI began probing the network’s activities, the shutters came down.

Controversy also dogged ITV Play and other quiz services following the rapid growth of this sector. While some viewers seemed happy to pay a premium to play along, others questioned the morality and probity of the channels where many viewers shelled out to call, but few hung up better off. These channels had initially been a success when operated on a series of little-known digital channels, but cries of ‘fix’ grew louder after major broadcasters – most visibly ITV – began to see these shows as a valuable new revenue stream. Suggestions  the games were deliberately so difficult nobody could win proved hard to shake off, particularly after the infamous Quizmania ‘rawlplugs and balaclava’ incident, and ultimately the damage caused to ITV by the fallout, coupled with the lower-than-expected viewing figures and revenues from the channel, saw ITV axe the station.

Elsewhere, a complaint to Ofcom about offensive content broadcast before the watershed alerted the regulatory body to the existence of an unlicenced (and thus technically illegal) channel – You TV 3, run as a subsidiary of the established (and licenced) You TV. Ofcom ordered the channel’s closure, though it later returned as You TV 2 Extra. Meanwhile, a fairly cool channel idea – The Advert Channel, set up to broadcast a bunch of old ads – was scuppered when performers’ unions demanded hefty repeat fees for their members, resulting in the channel suddenly becoming less attractive to its operators.

10. EVERYTHING CHANGES BUT YOU: Channels sunk by shifts in society or technology

Sometimes a TV channel can be a good idea in itself, but could find that its reason for being is swept away by changes elsewhere; either in the way  viewers live, or because changes in the media itself have rendered the channel unnecessary. The demise of phone-in quizzes, as mentioned in the above section, did not just spell the end of big names like ITV Play – the wider shift away from TV quizzing amid the media controversy led to other providers, such as Quiz Nation and Big Game TV – which had been viable and profitable before the fallout – pulling down the shutters.

Sky operated a pay-per-view channel, Premiership Plus (later renamed PremPlus) which for several seasons offered additional top-flight matches which Sky Sports had the rights to carry. The station also had its own HD service for a time, though the PremPlus channels vanished shortly afterwards, as an EU ruling that Sky’s exclusive access to the Premier League was anti-competitive meant the rights had to be shared out from the 2007-08 season, with Setanta and subsequently ESPN taking on a clutch of games. The reduced size of Sky’s pack meant the PPV add-on was no longer viable.

Sky also closed their dedicated widescreen movie channel – the lengthily-titled Sky Movies Premier Widescreen – when 16:9 was rolled out to other Sky Movies stations. The global economic slowdown also saw Fox International Channels bring the hammer down on Real Estate TV. In an eerie mirror of the wider financial decline, FIC had purchased the previously independent station when the housing market was buoyant, with a view to extending the brand using Fox’s global power. However, when the housing market faltered – sending the likes of Courts, MFI and Allied Carpets off the high street – RETV became less viable for extension, with fewer people moving and improving, and as such the channel was locked down.

In this case, FIC’s other channels stayed on air, but some broadcasters, when faced with money worries, haven’t been as resilent.

11. MONEY’S TOO TIGHT TO MENTION: Stations whose funding  ran dry

In all businesses, not just TV, cashflow and capitalisation are important to maintain. You could have the best intentions and ideas, but without the financial backing your plans may well run aground quite rapidly. Tara TV was an attempt to bring Irish-produced TV programming (principally that of RTE) into the UK on cable and Sky Digital, however, after RTE pulled funding out of the operation it was unable to sustain its place and closed down. RTE have since floated the idea of a new UK/pan-European channel, but no time frame for the launch of such a service is known. Until then, viewers in mainland UK will remain several years adrift of the storyline in Fair City. Tara’s final night saw the broadcast of some slightly cheeky, sarky captions from the transmission department played over the programmes…

Another channel saying goodbye in graphics was SportsXchange, a short-lived (July to December 2008) attempt to compete with Sky and Setanta’s sports news channels, but with the brand power of neither It closed down with a caption reading: ‘SportsXchange RIP – Crunch Credited’.

Shopping channels are set up specifically to make money, and so when they cease being profitable they soon find themselves on the chopping block. The list of axed shopping services is too long to go into here but some of the notable failures include Express Shopping Channel (an attempt by Daily Express-to-Television X owner Richard Desmond to expand his TV ambitions); US teleshopping giant HSN’s two attempts to launch a perch in the UK market (Home Shopping Europe and iBuy); and stations which collapsed into administration such as OneTV and PriceBusters.

Documentary channel tried to make factual programming accessible but even their bright brains couldn’t access enough cash to stay around for very long, with the channel closing after an ultimately doomed tie-up with Simply Media which saw the network renamed Simply Einstein. Simply were also behind one of two money-themed operations which should, really, have seen it coming – Simply Money transformed into Simply Shopping to stay afloat, while the late Adam Faith’s establishment, The Money Channel, elicited a reaction from the general audience not dissimilar to that which Faith himself later expressed about Five. Simply Media itself built up a brace of channels – the excellent Simply Nostalgia and Simply Nature, plus Simply Asian and myriad shopping networks – but the financial strain of supporting such a large operation without strong financial backing took its toll and Simply shrank back to a single channel, Simply Shopping. This has itself since been sold and rebranded, though the Simply name lives on as Simply Movies, a free-to-air film channel on satellite.

Simply isn’t the only multiple-channel network to come off air. Asian media firm Vectone established a wide and frequently-changing lineup of stations before the cost pressures involved saw the firm quit telly and go back to flogging international calling cards, and most recently, summer 2009 saw the financial stress of securing a panoply sports rights finally catch up to Setanta, with the firm collapsing its UK arm and closing many of its channels. The Setanta name now lives on in a much-reduced form in Ireland alone.

12. YOU’RE GONNA MAKE THE TIME TO COME BACK AROUND: Those that made repeated visits to the screen

Often, a dead channel remains just that and is never spoken of again. However, some broadcasters have risen from the ashes and been reborn in a new form.

In its original form, L!ve TV had a respectable (in length at least) run on cable, with its mix of news discussion and cheeky schtick. However, this  version never made it to satellite. Some years after the plug was pulled, however, there was an unexpected revival, as a satellite version popped up onto the Sky Digital platform. Now minus topical content, this take was based on reruns of a handful of L!ve’s shows (including paranormal documentary The Why-Files and gameshows Lie Detector and Indecent Proposals). This was later bought out by a Brazillian religious organisation and relaunched with a wider line-up under the name ‘My Channel’, though the L!ve shows still make an occasional appearance.

Canis Media’s Bonanza Bonanza format has made several appearances (not always under that name), usually as a placeholder before the launch or after the closure of another channel, and consists primarily of out-of-copyright black-and-white US shows. But the golden yo-yo trophy for most frequent revisitor to our screens is Rapture TV. The youth-focused channel began as a mixed grill of features on fashion, gaming, music and popular culture, transmitted on cable from Anglia TV’s Norwich base (Rapture and Anglia both at the time being owned by United News & Media). This version  was staffed chiefly by young folk from the East, including proud Canaries supporter and current BBC Formula 1 host, Jake Humphrey.

At the turn of the millennium, the channel – initially on air 10am-6pm at weekends only – was added to Sky Digital, and subsequently extended its broadcasts to 24 hours. By this point it had dumped some of the gaming, film and fashion content to focus almost exclusively on clubbing and extreme sports, and had been shunted into Sky’s ‘music’ section (also home of other youth channels such as 2001′s shortlived At this point, Rapture was foiled by UNM’s relaunch as UBM and their decision to pull out of TV. While Granada took on the firm’s ITV functions, there were no takers for Rapture, and the youth station shut its doors, closing with the then recently released track ‘Rapture’ by dance act iio.

Then, a while later, Edinburgh-based Power TV, which had produced some shows for Rapture, bought the name and set about creating a revival. Power’s first attempt – little more than a series of captions promoting ventures such as ‘Rapture Holidays’ – was later supplanted by a station consisting principally of a loop of repeats of a limited set of club nights and extreme sports footage. The audience soon tired of this content, however, and technical problems with a premium text-message system hit the channel’s profitability. Eventually, ths version of Rapture was powered down.

Just when we thought we’d seen the last of the big R, there was a further revival when a London-based organisation purchased the name and established a fresh Rapture. This did, at least, have some new content – G@mers was recommissioned (with one of the original presenters, Matt Cuttle, returning) and movie magazine That Film Show was revived (with ex-CBBC host Adrian Dickson at the helm). The channel also acquired a brace of anime, a clutch of movies and even BBC Scotland clubbing-themed drama Tinsel Town. This version of Rapture, then, was the broadest mix of content since the original, but its success was scuppered after a spat with Sky. A legal dispute over the cost of the slot on Sky’s EPG led to Murdoch’s network pulling Rapture off the guide, and despite informing regular viewers how to add the channel to their systems, the loss of general viewers left the channel with no choice but to pull their programming from the air.

The Rapture website remained live, though, and the station’s fans retain hope a fresh TV reappearance may one day come about.


While the above 12 categories illustrate that operating in multichannel TV is fraught with pitfalls, there are many other services which have made it through the debut decade of digital unscathed, proving that success in the field is possible. However, broadcasters – and those who wish to be – should keep in mind that there are key rules to remember.

One is to ensure  you have the financial support to match your aims – if you lack this, you’ll just fall on your face, as Sound TV and Setanta could tell you. It’s also important to remain on good terms with your programme suppliers and platform operators, as these organisations can and will take action – and possibly take you down completely – if angered. It’s also wise to keep an eye on changes within the media itself and wider society, including alterations in the lives and aspirations of your audience, which may in turn be linked to the shape of the wider economy.

It’s also key to keep step with your audience’s demands, and provide a service people actually want – in digital, viewers can vote with their feet and leave an unwanted channel adrift. Additionally, ensure your channel is visible in prominent positions on key platforms, and that the community or niche you’re targeting is small enough to give your station an identity without being so narrow as to close the door on the wider audience.

Those channels which can succeed at all of these principles have ensured their long-term survival and become key parts of the digital landscape. There is always room in today’s fast-changing media world for new ideas and new ways of looking at things, but the really clever thing is to ensure these are delivered in the right way.