As always the views in this post are personal and not those of my employer. It’s worth pointing out that I don’t know anything more than what I’ve read in the papers (although that’s never stopped me having an opinion before!)
I’m not sure what I’ve become so interested in Channel 4 lately apart from the fact that Hilary Perkins whom I like and respect now works there.
But there do seems to be some odd things happening at C4. First there’s this curious proposal that C4 should get a slice of BBC Worldwide’s profits. I suppose at least its better than topslicing the Licence Fee. But I don’t see why the BBC would countenance this when Worldwide is being worked very hard to try and make up a below par Licence Fee settlement. Unless of course C4’s involvement brought in significant new revenue overall.
But C4 say they will have a £100 million a year funding gap fo fill in 2012. BBC Worldwide’s pre tax profits last year were just over £100 million. So C4 would have to get a very big chunk indeed of WW’s revenue to really fill that funding gap.
Then there’s this report that C4 are looking again at their investment in digital radio. I think C4 could do some inventive, high quality radio stations. But they are unlikely to “challenge” Radio 4 in terms of numbers when R4 is broadcast on long wave and FM. And it will be tough to challenge R4 creatively when it’s going through such a great period under Mark Damazer who has managed the difficult trick of making R4 more intelligent and more accessible at the same time.
I was idly wondering if there wasn’t a flaw in C4’s strategic thinking.
C4 seems to want to push its public service credentials in order to get public funding (is investing in radio a part of this, as radio is traditionally seen as “more public service” than TV?).
But as public money comes with public accountability. This may restrict C4’s ability to move quickly and also change the perception that it is “different” (Steve Hewlett made this point somewhere but I’ve been unable to find a link).
At a time when there are some interesting new media developments at C4, and some people are working there who seem to understand new media (e.g. Matt Locke) C4’s strategy seems resolutely old media. They seem to see themselves as a television company rather than as a brand.
They should go back to what works: their brand. And I’d politely suggest that the “public service” element of their brand is not the only important part of it.
How do they make the C4 brand work on the internet and in cyberspace? And since cyberspace attacks national boundaries does this present an opportunity to take the C4 brand outside the UK and make money internationally?
Maybe they’re already looked at this and ruled it out. But to me it makes more sense than some of the ideas that have been floating around.