Digital and data will give Channel 4 a new lease of life

Channel 4’s commitment to put investing in digital innovation around advertising, data and programming will turn it into the new kid on the block again – despite being in its thirties.

Lara O'Reilly

Last year Channel 4 did not achieve the headline financials it had hoped for, given its sizeable investment in the broadcast of the Paralympics and the stall it had set out over the year to become a “pioneer” in the use of data. Revenue dropped, its share of viewing was eroded and it reported an operating loss of £29m – down from the £22m profit reported the previous year.

This deficit was planned, however, with money deployed to invest in the broadcast of the aforementioned Games, creative renewal, the launch of new channel 4Seven and improvements to its data processes.

The broadcaster plans to draw on its cash reserves again this year in order to stay ahead of the market by developing new advertising formats and digital programmes and products.

One such product includes the launch of a new second-screen app that is meant to act holistically across its programmes to boost engagement with its content across a range of mobile and tablet devices.

While he did not want to reveal too many details before launch, Channel 4’s director of strategy and technology Keith Underwood told me at the broadcaster’s annual report presentation it will give its near-8 million registered users the chance to shape the name and proposition of the app through surveys, mail outs and 4oD promotions.

The move signals that Channel 4 is looking to own the second screen experience across social and gaming not just with the obvious shows like Million Pound Drop and The Bank Job, but its entire real estate.

Channel 4 is also increasingly building second screen into the early stages of development of its programming. This year it will be launching a tweet-to-play-along-gameshow called “Was It Something I Said”, starring David Mitchell. The never before seen format again underlines Channel 4’s commitment to innovation and understanding of the way consumer viewing habits are changing.

On the advertising front, Channel 4 will continue up the game in the development of new formats (it created eight new formats last year). Just yesterday (16 May) it announced the “pioneer group” of brands – Microsoft, Nokia, O2, Bulmers, Unilever, B&Q and McDonald’s – that have signed up to its new commercial data initiative. It allows the advertisers to buy the same audiences they do on TV on 4oD for the first time, blending their own databases with Channel 4’s registered user base.

To run alongside the campaigns Channel 4 has also invested in a major research project, in parternship with comScore and MTM London, to evaluate efficiency of campaigns on video on demand services.

Of course, other broadcasters – such as Sky with AdSmart and ITV with its various VoD ad trials – are experimenting in this space too, but none are being as vocal as Channel 4 in setting out their stalls as confident pioneers in this space. It continues to be the irritant making the more “traditional” broadcasters look a little off the pace, or as David Abraham calls it “facing the future first”.

Channel 4 recognises that a positive viewer perception of its company as well as its programmes will also boost its appeal among advertisers. Late last year it launched a long-copy press ad campaign about the ethos behind Channel 4 (which won an award from our sister title Creative Review), but director of marketing and communications Dan Brooke told me he is looking at extending this push to communicate more around its “unique” not for profit business model. Particularly, it is looking to increase its use of digital this time round, especially considering the fact that one in three of all 16 to 24-year-olds in the entire country are registered with Channel 4.

When Channel 4 launched in 1982 it disrupted the broadcast industry with its edgy programming, bold attitude and ambitions to do things differently – from scheduling to selling. While the broadcaster is somewhat elderly compared to the majority of the other channels on the UK EPG and its apparent “edginess” is often challenged – indeed, David Abraham’s session at last year’s Edinburgh TV Festival was entitled “Channel 4: still a rebel at 30?” – its commitment to staying one step ahead of its peers when it comes to digital and data will see it disrupt the broadcast sector once again three decades on.



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