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What is Channel 4 for?

It might come as a surprise to some to find out that Channel 4 is not just another television channel: it is a non-profit making public body with a legal requirement to provide an alternative … to ITV

It might come as a surprise to some to find out that Channel 4
published on UK Free TV

Channel 4 has a plan to revive itself, by brining back The 11 O'Clock show.

While I loved The 11 O'Clock show and what it produced, I can't help feeling that the idea of reviving it is a little desperate. Every decade the BBC gets on a similar kind of thing when the Royal Charter is being renewed. Public service everything. Promises, like "nurture new talent", come to everyone's lips. There's a word for this stuff in the computer industry: vapourware. I suppose we have to be glad that the privatization of C4 is off the cards, but I fail to see where any of this "Next on 4" strategy is actually going. It is a "fait accompli" by the C4 board and management. No engagement with the industry, even less with the public. Perhaps we should just pull the plug on this C4, so everyone can fondly remember it.

It might come as a surprise to some to find out that Channel 4 is not just another television channel: it is a non-profit making public body with a legal requirement to provide an alternative to ITV.

Twenty five years ago, it was the UKs sixth television channel (45 years after BBC one, 27 after ITV1, 18 years after BBC TWO, a few months after what is now Sky One and a day after S4C).

Designed to provide an alternative from the BBC and ITV, the channel had a legal remit to provide public service programmes that could not be found on the other three main channels. It was funded by the adverts between the programmes, with some funding coming over as a safety-blanket from ITV.


However, today the channel seems to have little purpose. As nine out of ten homes have digital, multi-channel television, there is little for Channel 4 to define itself as an alternative to.


Looking at the Channel 4 schedule, it is hard to see how much of it can be seen as a public service or an alternative. A large part of the schedule is the same each weekday.

16:15-17:00 Deal or No Deal. Ratings: ~2.5m
17:00-18:00 Richard and Judy: Ratings: ~1.9m
18:00-18:30 The Simpsons: ~2.1m
18:30-19:00 Hollyoaks: ~2.2m
19:00-20:00 Channel 4 News

Deal or No Deal may be popular, but as it bamboozles the public into thinking a game of chance is a game of skill, it hardly qualifies as a public service. Richard and Judy is a show stolen from ITV, whilst popular and populist could quite easily be on any channel. Nightly outings of The Simpsons, some nearly as old as the channel itself, non newer than half a decade ago is hardly a public service crisis being patched.

Hollyoaks, whilst a soap, does at least have a spark of something different in the format and style, but innovates in only the mildest sense.

Channel 4 News is a national treasure. However, the viewing figures do not make the channels top 40.

20:00-21:00 Lifestyle and leisure

Tuesday to Friday, this is the location for the likes of A Place in the Sun Hotspots, Relocation, Relocation (~3.0m) , Jamie Oliver (~2.2m) , and A Place in the Sun: Home or Away. These popular programmes could, however, be on any channel. In the daytime.

This hour of leisure leaks into the 21:00-22:00 slot on some nights, with Grand Designs (Wednesday, ~3.3m) and Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA (~3.7m).

There is some other public services documentaries on Mondays or Thursday (Cutting Edge, ~ 2.4m), and the 10pm slot is Friday Night Project, US Comedy (My Name Is Earl, Big Bang Theory), US Drama (Desperate Housewives), UK drama (Shameless, ~2.4m).

It is hard to find any public service on this public service broadcaster!

Next on 4

Channel 4 is trying to come up with some new ideas (Next on 4) but perhaps it is time to just pull the plug and start again with a new Channel 4?

If ITV is going to ditch the regional news network, perhaps Channel 4 should be replaced by a network of local new fourth channels?

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