Advanced Television

Channel 4 unveils Future4 digital-first strategy

November 26, 2020

By Colin Mann

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive of UK PSB Channel 4, has unveiled a new five-year strategy for the business, Future4 – which will accelerate its pivot to digital and significantly increase both streaming of Channel 4 content and new revenues.

Channel 4 says this will underpin the organisation’s commercial self-sufficiency and its reach – ensuring Channel 4’s continued ability to deliver distinctive content at scale and meet its unique public service remit in a more competitive digital viewing environment.

The Future4 strategy is aimed at driving towards two clear objectives over the next five years: to double the viewing to All 4 and to deliver 30 per cent of total revenues from digital advertising and 10 per cent from non-advertising.

It will also help deliver a new clearly articulated purpose for Channel 4 which has been unveiled to the organisation’s staff, partners and stakeholders: create change through entertainment. This new purpose is rooted firmly in the corporation’s statutory public service remit and its commercially funded, not-for-profit model and is accompanied by three statements that articulate the organisation’s vision to: represent unheard voices, challenge with purpose, and reinvent entertainment.

This will be delivered across all of the UK, with Channel 4 now operating across five bases in Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester and London – and on track to deliver on its commitment to have 300 jobs based in the UK Nations & Regions in 2021, and 50 per cent of original content budget invested outside London by 2023. Channel 4 will move into its new National HQ building in the Majestic in Leeds in 2021.

Future4 has four key pillars:

  1. Prioritise digital growth over linear ratings
  2. Put viewers at the heart of decision making
  3. Diversify new revenue streams to underpin sustainability
  4. Focus on strategic partnerships to compete more effectively

“Since it was founded, Channel 4 has invested over £11 billion in original British television and we have always been different from other media companies in the way we play our role in that thriving economy,” stated Mahon. “But, as we emerge from this pandemic, I believe the need has never been greater for a public service broadcaster like ours: one that can represent the unheard in our society, can challenge misinformation, and can create change through entertainment for all UK viewers and for our creative sector.”

“Our ongoing focus is to continue to deliver our purpose and remit with meaningful scale and impact and I’m incredibly proud that we have already moved our viewing and our advertising revenues to digital at a faster rate than our competitors. We want to push this even further still, and our new Future4 strategy is about underpinning our commercial sustainability and ensuring that we have a clear plan to transform ourselves into a digital public service media organisation that delivers across the whole of the UK for the future.”

Channel 4 will pivot its content and commissioning strategy to achieve significant growth in digital viewing on AVoD service All 4 and on social – with a clear target of doubling viewing to All 4 over the next five years.

The Future4 strategy builds on the strong success that Channel 4 has already had in transforming its viewing and revenues to digital faster than its commercial competitors. All 4 views are up +27 per cent across 2020, with one billion views already achieved across all platforms this year.  During the first lockdown period (23 March to 3 July), All 4 views grew by +54 per cent, with rate of growth comparable to SVoDs such as Netflix.

This has been driven both by originated content from Channel 4 and E4, such as The Great British Bake Off, Taskmaster, Deadwater Fell, Murder in the Outback, Leaving Neverland, and The End of the F***ing World – as well as an extensive catalogue of All 4 exclusive and archive content such as The West Wing, ER and The Inbetweeners.  All 4’s depth of content means it is now the UK’s biggest free streaming service.

Going forwards, all of Channel 4’s commissioning, scheduling and commercial strategy will be optimised towards growing views and revenue on All 4 – with a much greater focus on investing in content that can deliver long-term digital viewing growth.

Channel 4 will also step up its commitment to original short form content distributed on social media, from its new digital content hub, 4Studio, based in Leeds. Over 2021 there will be social shorts commissioned across most genres in addition to branded entertainment partnerships such as this year’s Mission Accessible travelogue series with Rosie Jones, and all-female spoken word shorts, Unseen Kingdom.

Following the success of E4’s lockdown digital hit, Remote Comedy, there will also be new E4 digital shorts with new talent including Munya Chawawa, in new series What If.  Channel 4’s new strand of unscripted social content aimed at teenagers will also launch in 2021.

Announcing the strategic focus on digital today, Director of Programmes Ian Katz also reaffirmed Channel 4’s commitment to delivering to the organisation’s purpose and public service remit. As part of this, he announced a focus on Channel 4 providing more joy and fun to help viewers escape the Covid-19 pandemic as well as a renewed commitment to noisy and challenging programming. Full details of the 2021 content announcements can be found here.

He also outlined how Channel 4 would be more representative of all the UK with a year that includes the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games; and the Black Takeover – working alongside the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity to ensure a long-lasting legacy for off-screen diversity in the industry.

In supporting its pivot to digital, Channel 4 says it must better understand its audience and their needs in a much more complex and dynamic market and become much more viewer-centric. The business will roll-out a much more sophisticated data-led targeting model to inform its content, marketing and product development strategy.

Channel 4 already has 24 million registered users of All 4 and, with viewers’ consent, can use first-party data to personalise the experience of viewers on the service, from content recommendations to product features.  Recently this viewer data has been augmented further with deeper attitudinal research, and through the organisation’s new digital hub 4Studio, will also be adding further insight and understanding of social media habits.

All of this data will be used across the organisation more effectively to place the viewer at the heart of every decision – helping to better inform how Channel 4 commissions, schedules, plans, develops its products, markets and sells. Within commissioning, this will in no way replace the creative development process but will be allied with the expertise of commissioners and their production partners to better inform and aid the development of content. In marketing and product development, this will help to achieve better targeted delivery of content, and over time will inform the brand development of Channel 4’s linear and digital services.

To maintain the resilience of Channel 4’s commercial model, which funds the organisation’s investment in content and the delivery of its purpose and remit, the Future4 strategy will focus on increased innovation through Channel 4’s core commercial products and diversifying revenue beyond advertising. Channel 4 has set a clear target to deliver 30 per cent of total revenues from digital advertising and 10 per cent from non-advertising by 2025.

This will build on the strong track record in digital and data innovation that Channel 4 has already demonstrated in growing its digital revenue base, with digital advertising accounting for 14 per cent of total corporation revenue in 2019 and on-track to grow to 17 per cent in 2020 – ahead of commercial peers in UK and Europe. All digital revenues, including syndication of All 4, are set to grow from 17 per cent of total revenue to 20 per cent in 2020.

Core commercial innovation will also include expansion of Channel 4’s data-matched digital advertising products and the roll-out of addressable advertising on linear services through partnerships including Sky’s AdSmart.

Channel 4 will scale up 4Studio – the new digital content studio based in Leeds – to build and more effectively monetise the organisation’s footprint in social. This will include new and deeper relationships with social partners, building on the success 4Studio has already achieved with its partnership with Snapchat, in which short-form edits of some of Channel 4 and E4’s biggest shows have been distributed to millions of young viewers on Snapchat. 4Studio will also expand its presence in branded social entertainment, developing and distributing content with a range of advertising partners.

Channel 4 will also accelerate the take up of All 4+, the ad-free version of its on-demand service, with new content, features and product enhancements.


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