MEDIA: Film Four’s thoughful offering puts it on top in the digital war

There’s no pause in the digital TV wars and accompanying hype. As soon as BSkyB’s new chief executive Tony Ball arrived from Los Angeles, the message seeped out to the City - stealing a march on OnDigital. The ’free’ set top converter offer was going like a bomb, connections were in excess of 800,000, and the target of one million SkyDigital homes by next October would be surpassed. In this business you have to blaze with confidence.

There’s no pause in the digital TV wars and accompanying hype. As

soon as BSkyB’s new chief executive Tony Ball arrived from Los Angeles,

the message seeped out to the City - stealing a march on OnDigital. The

’free’ set top converter offer was going like a bomb, connections were

in excess of 800,000, and the target of one million SkyDigital homes by

next October would be surpassed. In this business you have to blaze with

confidence.



But what is interesting me is the way broadcasters, with vastly

differing effectiveness, are taking advantage of the new capacity.

Further down the chain, PROs are working furiously, trying to get media

attention for their new digital channels, rescuing them from

obscurity.



I’d say the BBC is having most problems overall - although News 24 came

of age during the Kosovo action because it settled down to straight

reporting.



The June launch of its latest public service channel, BBC Knowledge, was

coolly received outside of the educational press, while no one seems to

know what its sister service, BBC Choice stands for, despite copious

plugs on BBC1.



But, more positively, the best example of using digital positively has

to be Film Four, the Channel 4, pounds 5.99 per month, film channel. It

has already enrolled 100,000 subscribers in seven months. There are real

lessons here. The original concept - simple, unfussy, a network devoted

to independent film - was sketched out on the back of an envelope by

former chief executive Michael Grade. Once defined, there was no

argument: it was an obvious niche for Channel 4 to occupy, very

different from the movie services pumped out by Sky.



The new C4 team has fleshed out the scheme to 100 films each month,

running from 6pm to 6am. But, and this is what raises my spirits, it

seems to be evolving month by month, learning from audiences,

experimenting with seasons, a sign that there is much more than a

cynical commercialism at work.



For example, its way of marking Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday, on 13

August is to screen The Man Who Knew Too Much, a tense thriller. But

it’s the ’missing’ 1934 version, not a 1950s Hollywood remake, a version

never released on video. Why? Because the head of programming knows

Hitchcock’s daughter and tracked down the print.



Further, it is capitalising on the goodwill accrued by supporting

British film for the past 17 years. Last week, Mike Figges (director of

Leaving Las Vegas) amiably turned up for the first of monthly cinema

screenings, while in July Nick Moran, star of BAFTA winner Lock Stock,

and Two Smoking Barrels, introduces his favourite films on screen.



It is a case study in how to not just extend your brand, but enhance it

too.



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