Dave: Stupid name, decent viewing figures. But anyway: numbers.

According to MeejaGuardian, UKTV's brave move to launch a Freeview channel with something worth watching on it (but with a really, really stupid name that a bunch of overpaid marketing yahoos are still probably quaffing celebratory cocaine over even as we type) seems to have paid off, with the channel ahead of BBC Three, Living and Sky One in the multichannel viewing share league table. While we're not sure cramming a channel full of Top Gear repeats is a viable long-term plan, it seems to be preferable to watching Price-drop TV, E4+1 or the smileTV "Programming starts at 3am" screen. And quite right, too.

Now, given the launch of a channel on Freeview that broadcasts lots of already popular programmes - as opposed to another shopping or time-shifted channel - was always likely to prove popular on a television platform preferred by 30.4% of the population, why aren't there more entertainment channels on there? Over on Sky, Paramount are really struggling for viewers at the moment, with their most-watched show (Scrubs, with 112,000 viewers for w/e 14th Oct) being out-watched by classic programmes such as History Channel's Ice Road Truckers (159,000 viewers), or ITV3's repeat of An Audience With Des O'Connor (223,000 viewers). If they'd put the channel onto Freeview, possibly by annexing the Bid-Up TV studios - well, it's worth a try - they'd be onto an advertising revenue winner, we're sure.

The same applies to Bravo, Living and Sci-Fi. For all their endless promotion and "flagship" programmes (or more accurately "help! We've spunked all our annual budget on one NBC adult drama that got got canned after eight episodes" programmes), they're hardly eating into the viewing shares of the 'proper' channels. Unless you're counting ITV1, but we're still convinced Michael Grade is trying some sort of The Producers-type tax dodge with that. We fully expect to see 'Springtime For Bin Laden' as part of their Christmas Day schedule.

This brings us onto another almost relevant point. There were a lot of channels that launched around the same time as Sky Digital that quite clearly cost a bit of money to keep running, and with the relatively tiny potential audience of the time, they would clearly be fighting an uphill struggle. Channels such as TaraTV (which showcased the best of Irish TV - The Late Late Show, Don't Feed The Gondolas, and live sets from the like of Tommy Tiernan) barely troubled the Barb number monkeys. This set of ratings figures from March 2001 reveal that exactly half of their fifty most-watched programmes attained a total of "0.00m" viewers (or, given that the totals are rounded off to the closest decimal point, less than 5,000 viewers) . Their top programme - Quiet Man - reached a Barb-extrapolated total of 40,000 viewers. Their top 10 most-watched shows were as follows:

QUIET MAN 0.04m
RACING GREEN 0.02m
NINE/CLOCK NEWS-TARA 0.02m
CRIMELINE 0.01m
HARBOUR NIGHTS 0.01m
PRIMETIME 0.01m
THE PURE DROP 0.01m
FAIR CITY 0.01m
GARDEN HEAVEN 0.01m
TARA SHOP 0.01m

That's an average of 150,000 viewers.

That might not sound like a lot, but let's compare it to one of the few other digital-only channels on offer at the time, UK Drama :

SNAPPER 0.05m
DUCHESS OF DUKE STRT 0.04m
WODEHOUSE PLAYHOUSE 0.04m
DUCHESS OF DUKE STRT 0.03m
DUCHESS OF DUKE STRT 0.03m
DUCHESS OF DUKE STRT 0.03m
MR WROE'S VIRGINS 0.03m
BLUE REMBRD HILLS 0.02m
BADGER 0.02m
MR WROE'S VIRGINS 0.02m

"Snapper" probably not being an adaptation of Acornsoft's Pac-Man clone, we're guessing. An average of 310,000 viewers.

So, in the grand scheme of things, Tara found itself not a billion miles behind a heavily promoted UKTV channel which was in a better EPG slot at the time (151 vs 178). Considering Tara had only launched on Sky Digital, contained mostly programmes the vast majority of the potential audience won't have heard of, and UK Drama was just the latest in the UKTV family of channels, that's not a bad showing.

One imaginary montage of clocks whizzing forwards and pages falling off a day-by-day calendar later, we find ourselves in Space Year 2007. Looking at the figures for the same week in 2007, how much have the fortunes of the UKTV channel changed since then? The ever useful Barb website has the answer.

NEW TRICKS 0.236m
DALZIEL AND PASCOE 0.229m
THE INSPECTOR LYNLEY MYSTERIES 0.151m
MISS MARPLE 0.13m
NEW TRICKS 0.118m
SHARPE 0.107m
LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE 0.106m
LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE 0.106m
MURDER, SHE WROTE 0.098m
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES 0.098m

An improved average over the top ten programmes of 137,900 viewers. That's up 106,900 viewers on six years previous, or a whopping 349% for any percentage fans in the room. How would that relate to a possible top ten shows for Tara Television, given that we're going to attribute offensively stereotypical titles to each of the programmes in the rundown? It's okay, we've got Irish relatives, so it's not racist.

STICK IT UP YOUR BOLLICKS with ROY KEANE 0.14m
FECK! 0.07m
WHITTLING NOBBLY STICKS WITH PACKIE BONNER 0.07m
THE LATE LATE LATE SHOW LATE 0.03m
I'VE A PIG UNDER MY ARM 0.03m
HORSES RUNNING THROUGH HOUSING ESTATES 0.03m
AMERICANS PRETENDING THEY'RE PART IRISH 0.03m
FAIR CITY 0.03m
THE FAI SLAPSTICK HOUR w/ STAN STAUNTON 0.03m
SIX-ONE NEWS 0.03m

That gives an improved average of 50,000 viewers. Just to put that into context, that would see the channel comfortably ahead of VH-1, UKTV People, Trouble, Men and Motors, Discovery, and pretty much on a par with Challenge. And all with programmes that hadn't already been broadcast on any other British channel. Good going, we'd say. All of which makes it a shame Tara Television went belly up in 2002.

That's no reason why UK Play shouldn't make a comeback, though.

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