Is 4seven just a big fat gimmicky rebadging?

Channel 4 announced its first new TV channel launch in seven years this week, 4seven, which will base its scheduling around the programmes that have created the most buzz among bloggers, critics and via social media in the past seven days.

Lara O'Reilly

The broadcaster says 4seven will act as a linear TV alternative to its 4oD catch-up service and it hopes to solve the problem of viewers missing some of its most popular content, despite having access to VOD (video on demand) platforms and PVRs (Personal Video Recorders).

Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham said: “4seven supports our strategy of embracing the opportunities of connectivity, by exploring ways to deepen engagement with our viewers and expand the choices we can offer them.”

It is understandable why Channel 4 might want to use social media buzz to influence its programming. Around 75% of consumers use other technology whilst watching TV and one in five (17%) British TV viewers use social media as a way to discover new programmes, according to research from YouGov, for communications agency Diffusion.

The first thing that struck me about social media dictating the channel’s scheduling that it opens itself up to an immense amount of hijacking.

There’s already been countless case studies as to how the sardonic nature of the British public or the sheer volume of biased participants can completely skew the outcomes of social media campaigns in a way that was not intended by their creators.

Next had the embarrassing task of dealing with the outcome of an online poll to find its next face of the brand. Rather than a leggy blonde or a tall, dark and handsome pouter, online pollsters voted in their thousands for tubby computer engineer Roland Bunce to become the Next top model. One Facebook fan even started a Roland support group as the votes rolled in.

Last month One Direction, a manufactured teen pop group that are barely old enough to dress themselves, were judged by an online public poll to have produced Britain’s best single of 2011, helped by their legions of Twitter followers and Facebook fans. I shudder to think what future generations will assume when they look back through the Brit Awards vaults and discover that music fans deemed “What Makes You Beautiful” the single best track the British music industry had to offer in 2011.

McDonald’s also found itself the victim of a social media gaffe, after a campaign encouraging consumers to share their #McDStories was ambushed by detractors leaving negative comments.

Channel 4 could potentially suffer the same fate. All it takes is for a Facebook campaign group to form and some influential Twitter users to start retweeting and 4Seven could be flooded with endless repeats of the Hoobs.

One would imagine Channel 4 will employ a certain amount of moderation when it comes to scheduling, but even if it overcomes the twisted humour of the British public when it comes to social media I’m not sure if it will overcome the fact that David Abraham has essentially launched another Dave.

No matter which way Channel 4 dresses it up, 4seven is designed to house repeats. It requires no extra creative output but opens up extra advertising inventory.

Channel 4 says 4seven acts as a bridge between traditional TV and a “truly converged digital experience”, using a remote control rather than going online. I don’t agree, I think it’s traditional TV with some added whistles.

The beauty of VOD and the reason why it has become such a popular format is because it offers what you want, when you want and increasingly wherever you want it, whether you are in the living room or out and about.

On the other hand, 4seven will offer what the masses want (which most of us would like to think is not what we want) and only via the TV set.
4seven has created a lot of “buzz” of its own since its launch was announced yesterday but I fear it is little more than a rebadged repeats channel, rather than, as Channel 4 urges, “embracing the opportunities of connectivity”. I’ll be sticking with 4oD.

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