Advanced Television

C4 “digital-first” by 2030, as job cuts rise

January 29, 2024

Channel 4 has unveiled its five-year plan to reshape the organisation and accelerate its transformation into a genuinely digital-first public service streamer by 2030. Meanwhile there are numerous reports that previously specified job cuts of 200 will now reach 250.

This would represent the biggest cuts in the pubcasters history and account for 15 per cent of its 1,300 permanent staff. The company blames the chronic downturn in TV advertising, but cuts are also seen as an inevitable consequence of the pivot away from FTA broadcast and towards a digital first approach.

Channel 4 says its strategy – called Fast Forward – will ensure it “embraces the generational shift that is taking place in TV viewing, to elevate its impact across the UK and stand out in a world of global entertainment conglomerates and social media giants”.

Fast Forward is designed to help Channel 4 protect its long-term sustainability: focusing investment in distinctive, streaming-friendly British content and social media; growing diversified revenue streams; and reengineering the business to become leaner and nimbler, divesting from legacy operations to support digital priorities.

In 2020, Channel 4 launched its Future4 strategy to shift its focus from traditional broadcasting to digital. Digital revenues accounting for 27 per cent of total revenues 2023 – compared to around 10 per cent amongst other commercial broadcasters in the UK and abroad. Channel 4 aims to increase this to 30 per cent in 2024 and pass the tipping point of 50 per cent by 2030. It has also expanded non-advertising revenue to represent 10 per cent of total revenues and, in streaming, viewing time grew by 24 per cent in 2023.

The Fast Forward strategy aims to build on this momentum and support Channel 4 into the 2030s, ensuring it reaches new generations of viewers, delivers its public service remit, and sustains its long-term future as a relevant force in British creative and cultural life.

Alex Mahon, Channel 4CEO, commented: “Channel 4 was designed to be ahead of the curve and has never stood still. The rate of change in our market is only speeding up. Our new strategy will accelerate our digital transformation – building on 2020’s Future4 strategy and our founding public service principles – so Channel 4 remains a trusted, disruptive and distinctive brand into the 2030s, offering brilliant shows that people love and that matter. We are genuinely excited about the future. Channel 4 means something to British people – we are trusted, we are a beacon for quality, we stand out for fresh and exciting ideas that matter and will be even more important in a crowded landscape of global content.”

“While getting ourselves into the right shape for the future is without doubt the right action to take, it does involve making difficult decisions. I am very sad that some of our excellent colleagues will lose their jobs because of the changes ahead. But the reality of the rapid downshift in the UK economy and advertising market demand that we must change structurally. As we shift our centre of gravity from linear to digital our proposals will focus cost reductions on legacy activity. In preparing for a new digital-first future, I hope we can make Channel 4 simpler – for staff and our suppliers – and create a more efficient, inclusive and high performing organisation,” she added.

Fast Forward has three strategic pillars:

  1. Digital growth and transformation

Fast Forward will see Channel 4 seize the opportunity to deliver important, distinctive and disruptive British content to audiences across streaming and social. This includes:

  • Accelerating the move to a digital-first commissioning strategy with a significant shift in investment to the types of programming that drive streaming growth like drama, high-end documentaries, comedy and reality – and remit delivery, while targeting younger viewers on platforms including YouTube
  • Proposing changes to how Channel 4’s Commissioning team is organised to make it simpler for suppliers and more focused on content that drives streaming
  • A focus on cut-through with fewer, stronger new titles that generate more scale and impact
  • Doubling social views through 4Studio and increasing the amount of content on YouTube
  • Transforming Channel 4’s streaming platform through outsourced technology that delivers a step-change in the user experience for viewers and advertisers
  • Building new distribution partnerships to enhance visibility of Channel 4 video
  1. Diversified new businesses

Channel 4 will invest in growth businesses to scale diversified revenue streams. This will contribute its long-term sustainability and impact with viewers. This includes:

  • Exploring the potential of intellectual property ownership for Channel 4, including the potential to own shows within the framework being proposed in the Media Bill
  • Doubling the number of members of Channel 4+, the ad-free tier, by 2030
  • Building a double-digit million ecommerce business by 2030 to allow viewers to interact and purchase products through digital platforms
  • Leveraging FAST channels to give viewers access to more of their favourite content online
  1. Reengineering the business for a digital-first world

To stay competitive and invest in digital priorities, Channel 4 will reduce its operational costs, particularly out of legacy activities. This will simplify its operations to become leaner and more sustainable for the long term. This includes:

  • Proposing to reduce headcount by 18 per cent – around 200 redundancies and the closure of approximately 40 unfilled roles. Around 70 per cent of roles closed would be out of legacy operations. This would return headcount close to 2021 levels
  • Moving out of Channel 4’s London base in the next few years. With 600 roles based outside of London by the end of 2025, lower headcount in London overall, and a shift to flexible working, Channel 4 will find a new office space in central London
  • Proposing to close small linear channels that no longer deliver revenues or public value at scale, including the Box channels in 2024 and others

Channel 4 added it remains committed to its existing target of 600 roles across the Nations and Regions by 2025.

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