UK's Channel 4 to Extend Brand to Cellphones, Gaming

25 May 2005

Britain's second state-owned TV operator Channel 4 differs from its senior sibling, the BBC, in that it's primary funding source is advertising rather than the public purse.

And although its finances are currently in good shape with a recent 34% hike in profits [WAMN: 20-May-05], the broadcaster is conscious of a future fraught with uncertainty due to increasing media proliferation and fragmentation.

With this in mind, chairman Luke Johnson intends to move C4 out of the TV box and transform it into an entertainment brand, embracing new sectors such as cellphones and computer games.

"We should have done all that before now, but we are where we are," says Johnson philosophically. "We have a digital radio station, Channel 4, 4Docs (a soon-to-be launched documentary channel available via broadband), E4, and another on Freeview [More4] launching later this year.

Johnson may be philosophical about the past, but he doesn't intend to let the grass grow beneath his feet so far as the future is concerned. Speaking at an Oxford University media conference, on Monday he told delegates: "We have to build on that and get into live events, mobile phones, computer games perhaps, music and we have to get a move on."

He also touched on the thorny subject of personal video recorders, introducing a rare note of commonsense into a debate that has of late been largely hysteria-driven.

Although C4 is taking the PVR threat seriously and has set-up a research unit to examine how audiences use the devices, Johnson is cautious about their impact because the people using them are atypical of TV audiences as a whole.

"The early adopters who have bought them aren't typical TV viewers," Johnson opined. "It is not yet known how the mass market will use them."

He also cast a critical eye on UK commercial rival ITV, currently in the throes of a castigatory hammering for its reliance on a melange of 'reality' dross with which it is trying desperately to stabilize its ratings slide.

"They are profoundly timid organisation who are playing it safe, which is a very dangerous game in the long run. They are losing audiences hand over fist," Johnson pronounced.

"If they were innovative and breaking new ground they would be doing better critically and financially. They are going for the tried and tested and obvious and that why viewers have decided they are boring. Playing it safe is mostly a mugs' game."

Johnson, whose personal fortune accrued from a pizza chain background, had a kind word for the BBC, promising to "keep giving [it] a hard time because without Channel 4 they wouldn't be as good as they are".

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff