New look for Five News

By Ian Beaumont

Welcome the new one, same as the old one?

Back in 1997, a new terrestrial channel launched, with a brand new news service, provided by ITN. 5 News was revolutionary at the time. Newscaster Kirsty Young (above left) stood in front of the desk, and even perched on it to present the news. She even walked around the newsroom (above right - images courtesy of HTW) to talk to reporters. At a time when newscasters were stuck behind desks and their bottom halves never seen, this was a completely different look to news presentation.

The combined newsroom and studio allowed a variety of different sets to be used for different shows. Whilst 5 News Early was behind a desk, the same desk on which Kirsty would perch later in the day, 5 News at Noon and the daytime updates would be done in front of a curved video wall of 16 screens. For one evening update, the newscaster would be sat at one of production desks in the newsroom, ostensibly getting ready for the main bulletin later. That update was shot on Steadicam, the first time Steadicam had ever been used for news.

How times change. Seven years later, the other terrestrial broadcasters, who were now also standing up, moving around, without a desk, in front of video walls and huge virtual screens, had caught up with Five News, which had been reduced to a simple bench and a glass screen. It was no longer revolutionary, either in its look or its coverage. Five decided that a change was in order, and when the contract with ITN came up for renewal, Five decided not to stick with them, and instead went with Sky News.

Sky News had been trying to get into the terrestrial news market since the early 1990's, and had always been turned down by ITV, Channel 4, and indeed Channel 5 in their early days. Finally, in March 2004, they got their first foothold in terrestrial news. And so as the end of 2004 approached, ITV, Channel 4 and media commentators alike started to look towards what the new look Five News would be like.

Five and Sky News had planned to launch the new service on January 3rd, a couple of days after the ITN contract ended, and over two weeks after the last full-length main ITN Five News bulletin aired. The gap would be to allow for rehearsal time in the newly constructed Sky News Centre in Osterley, west of London. However, as the old saying goes, the news never stops, not even at Christmas.

At about 8am on Sunday 26th December 2004, Boxing Day, an earthquake measuring around 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred under the Indian Ocean. The resulting tsunami has caused billions of pounds worth of damage, wiped whole towns off the map, and taken the lives of over 150,000 people. That's equal to the death of around a third of the population of Cornwall, and the numbers are still rising.

Such a huge story caused massive changes to all the channel's schedules over the Christmas period, and the reverberations were felt at both Sky News and Five. Both of them realised that by having two days without updates, as was the original plan, would probably undermine the credibility of the new service. So, two updates, both at 9pm, were added to the schedules of January 1st 2005 and January 2nd.

Their thunder was almost stolen by Channel 4, who revised their news on New Year's Eve to match the new look of the channel (a story covered elsewhere on EMC). Even so, attention still stayed on Five, as everybody waited to see what the new Five News would look like.

We got our first taste on New Year's Day, when Kirsty Young fronted the first update. The update title sequence was quite short - only the briefest of indications of the full bulletin's titles - purple with an orange swoosh. We also got our first glimpse of the studio - just a single camera viewpoint. It showed the unique studio mezzanine: the presenter appeared to be standing on some stairs just down from the balcony. The update also contained a ticker, also purple-coloured.

Photo of Kirsty on the Sky version of the Five News set
(Sky News photo)

The second update the following day didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. So we waited for the first scheduled main bulletin, at 5.30pm on the Monday.

The 5.30 bulletin came, and the big surprise was how small the studio was made to look. Despite there being a balcony, and the stairs that led up to them, the rest of studio looked very compact. There was a blue, low-backed sofa, and so-called 'clever glass' behind that, which could be clear or opaque. Opaque, it could be used as a projection screen.

My first impression, it must be said, was one of disappointment - and that feeling hasn't changed much since then. The studio still feels small, especially when compared to the ITV, Channel 4 and Sky news studios. The agenda certainly doesn't seem to have changed, either. This new-look service, from a new provider, doesn't seem to have addressed some key issues with the service, namely the lack of a Five-branded breakfast bulletin, and the continuing lack of a longer late bulletin to properly round things off. I also feel that the lack of updates during daytime does not help the situation and should also be rectified.

Overall, the service seems reasonable enough, but nothing special, which I feel is rather unsatisfactory when compared to the improvement that has been seen in ITV News since their revamp. This may be Sky's shop window for terrestrial news provision, but right now, it's not looking too appealing.

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Article ©2005 Ian Beaumont

Compilation ©2005 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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