‘More than a Television Channel’: Channel 4, FilmFour and a failed convergence strategy

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    Abstract

    Obliged by act of Parliament to “innovate and experiment,” Channel 4 has, since its birth in 1982, been the UK's most pioneering commercial television broadcaster. Its arrival broadened the meaning, function and operations of public service broadcasting in the UK, with a particular focus on minorities and pushing boundaries, political and creative. In the late 1990s, though, it was under increasing threat from specialist pay-TV services that could more accurately target its audiences. As a commercially funded channel with public service responsibilities, Channel 4 was under increasing pressure to be financially independent and fulfil a challenging remit. Its response to a threatened income and increasing competition was to diversify its portfolio into various media related businesses, particularly taking advantage of the arrival of digital television to expand its offer. The subtitle of the Corporation's 2000 Annual report, ‘More than a Television Channel’ indicates the confidence, optimism and boldness with which this expansion was approached. The rapid expansion of the channel's portfolio in a time of relative confidence in the commercial viability of the television industry was to be reversed only a few years later, when, after it failed to produce the returns it was designed for, 4Ventures was drastically scaled back, and Channel 4 refocused its efforts on the core broadcast channel. Channel 4 therefore offers a test case in the limits of convergence as a strategy for survival for British broadcasters at the arrival of digital television. This paper focuses specifically on the areas of Channel 4's strategy that pertained to one of the broadcaster's particular strengths: film culture. It explores one of the film offshoots of 4Ventures: FilmFour Ltd, the film finance, production, sales and distribution company and how its failure to find a commercial hit mirrors the general problems for a commercial public service broadcaster in expanding to become a convergent television company.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5-13
    JournalVIEW: Journal of European Television History & Culture
    Volume3
    Issue number6
    Early online date3 Dec 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014

    Keywords

    • Channel 4
    • FilmFour
    • convergence
    • UK television industry
    • UK film industry
    • digital television

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