“In the blue corner... standing 6 feet tall and weighing in officially at 168.4lbs, it's Aaron 'The Joker' Chalmers...,” cries announcer Buddae Johnson as he introduces the former Geordie Shore star, now MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter to an arena of baying fans.
It’s the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts’ (BAMMA) fight night, where 20 fighters will take to the cage in a series of violent bouts combining boxing, ju jitsu, muay thai and a dozen other forms of fighting.
It’s violent. It’s explosive. And it’s going out live on Dave, "the Home of Witty Banter".
“We’ve been stretching out the channel,” Richard Watsham, UKTV’s director of commissioning, told the RTS before the fight night. “Historically Dave has been one thing, but actually [we’ve been] growing Dave in terms of the editorial mix and the genres for some time now.”
Previously home to Top Gear repeats and reruns of Only Fools and Horses, Dave has been expanding its remit over the past few years. Speaking to the RTS last year, UKTV CEO Darren Childs said, “UKTV set itself milestones to reach, including [a] move away from being a purely archive business to one that commissioned content that differentiated it from other broadcasters.”
That decision has led to a raft of successes, including Alex Horne’s Taskmaster – currently in its fifth series - and satirical current affairs show Unspun with Matt Forde. However the recent shift to sports indicates a move away from that self-imposed comedy-entertainment remit.
“There’s nothing comedic about people getting knocked out,” reflected Olympian and World Champion boxer David Haye, when he spoke to the RTS about his new deal which will see five boxing fight nights go out annually on the channel over the next three years. “Dave is fast becoming the channel for quality sports.”
Haye had his first fight night on Dave in 2016 against Mark de Mori, which proved successful for the channel, drawing an audience of over 3m (up 461% on the slot). This encouraged the channel to invest in more sports coverage. “What came off the back of the original David Haye fights [were] a darts event and a cricket series,” Watsham said.
MMA is the newest sport to be shown on the channel, having moved to Dave from Channel 5 earlier this year. The recent BAMMA 31 fight night drew a host of fighting fans and famous faces to Wembley’s SSE arena including actor Tom Hardy, Hollyoaks’ Jorgie Porter, the cast of MTV’s Geordie Shore and David Haye, who was a pundit for Dave.
“Dave's purpose has been broadened out, and in doing so, allows us to reach new audiences and to grow awareness,” explained Watsham. “I certainly wouldn’t view Dave now as a comedy-entertainment channel. I’d view it as a broad entertainment channel that has a very successful raft of comedy entertainment shows on it. They are no longer the sole defining content on there,” he added. While comedy-entertainment still forms the backbone to the channel, Dave’s foray into sport will continue.
— Ed Gove (@EdGove) September 15, 2017
BAMMA left Channel 5 in September 2016 after an inauspicious 18 months on the channel. The Mirror criticised C5’s early approach which “aimed at the celebrity angle, not the sporting angle” by promoting mid-card fighter – and Katie Price’s ex-husband - Alex Reid as a stand-out fight of one the broadcaster's first fight nights. According to MMA site, MMA Plus, the BAMMA fights also suffered from poor promotion in their previous home, something that may not be a problem on Dave given their past performance.
Due to a late signing of the agreement between Haye and the channel, UKTV had just one week to promote Haye's first fight - which still managed to draw knockout figures for the slot. "We’ve proven ourselves to be worthy partners,” insisted Watsham.
And with the so-called "Home of Witty Banter’s" sports offerings seemingly drawing in great viewing figures for the channel, it appears that the Dave home invasion is just getting started.