Channel 4 makes with tradition to deliver £1bn revenue

’Traditional’ and ’edgy’ are words that don’t usually sit well together, but that didn’t stop Channel 4 attempting to prove its strategy for 2011 had both these qualities, at its first major showcase last week.

The event, at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden, saw a move away from the broadcasters normal policy of meeting media agencies in smaller gatherings, to an en masse collective of Channel 4 stars, agencies, sales team and management.

This was no uber-cool venue, but one that exuded tradition, robustness and confidence from a broadcaster that claims to be looking at £1bn in ad revenue for 2011, a brighter outlook than it faced this time last year.

2009 saw an 8% decline in Channel 4’s programming budget, with £125 m less to spend than in 2008. The group’s profits were down from £1.8m to £0.3m in 2009, and its ad revenue was down 10.5% over the same period.

David Abraham, chief executive of the broadcaster since May, began restructuring the company in June with the aiming of cutting 25% of its 48 senior managers by 2011. Channel 4’s sales team has undergone changes too with its 175 staff facing a restructure following a review in July.

There was a notable sense of relief in David Abraham’s voice as he talked about the “funeral of Big Brother” over the summer.

The programme has for better or worse defined the channel over the last decade, and its demise gives Channel 4 more money and more schedule to experiment with, and draws a line under some dubious management decisions under previous bosses. Channel 4 Radio anyone?

Having worked in advertising for years, Abraham is acutely aware how the channel need to pay for its content, and certainly isn’t holding out the licence fee top-slicing begging bowl like his predecessor Andy Duncan, a drum that was being beaten until Duncan’s exit last year.

Last week was all about getting brands to send more of their advertising budgets its way, and Abraham certainly seemed boosted by the group’s new responsibility to take on the sales of UKTV’s channels under its wing and as a way to exploit the group’s advertising opportunities.

Andy Barnes, Channel 4’s director of sales, talked a lot about the “edge” that you get when you advertise on Channel 4 and backed it up by saying Channel 4 delivered a 4% higher ROI than any other UK channel. A confident statement indeed.

The venue choice did not escape his attention.

“The Freemasons are about tradition and an ethical approach to life,” he says.

“Channel 4 isn’t. It’s about irreverence, the new and fun; self deprecating and challenging the status quo. Inspiring change and being maverick. The Freemason’s aren’t.”

“But maybe that’s the point. It’s unsuspecting. And it doesn’t get anymore unsuspecting than Channel 4 being in this place,” he added.

Abraham also talked about Channel 4’s “tradition of creativity and innovation.”

If Channel 4 can deliver this ’edge’ and provide advertisers with a genuine point of difference from now on, then perhaps tradition isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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