Channel 4 plans have clearly got ITV executives rattled

There is a certain logic to Channel 4’s decision, announced this week, to mark Christmas and the channel’s 15th anniversary with the first ever organised retrospective of past achievements. This is because under new chief executive Michael Jackson it’s apparent that every centimetre of the schedule is under scrutiny as the new team gets to work.

There is a certain logic to Channel 4’s decision, announced this

week, to mark Christmas and the channel’s 15th anniversary with the

first ever organised retrospective of past achievements. This is because

under new chief executive Michael Jackson it’s apparent that every

centimetre of the schedule is under scrutiny as the new team gets to

work.



The decision, earlier this month, to ask for submissions on reinventing

and even shifting that tired old warhorse, Channel 4 News, is only one

symptom of the change underway. Jackson’s new head of drama, Gub Neal,

poached from Granada, is to switch the emphasis away from a few big

glossy series a year to add on new writers and more regular drama, with

new 26-week series paid for with an enhanced budget.



Film on 4, the channel’s jewel, is to have a new creative head, more

money to spend and a revised strategy to support risky and innovative

films, which may also include partnerships. David Brook, the former

marketing director of Channel 5, and before that, the Guardian has been

brought on board to beef up its image starting with the replacement of

those hopelessly vacuous circles which pass for a corporate identity.

The forthcoming Channel 4 digital film service desperately needs his

guidance onto the airwaves.



Rosemary Newell, the ex-BBC1 ace scheduler, and a crucial backroom

figure, is already installed at her Channel 4 desk, delighted the

channel’s simple structure allows for quick decision taking. Behind all

of this is the fact that Channel 4’s licence from the Independent

Television Commission is currently being renegotiated, for introduction

in January. The policy, laid by culture and media secretary Chris Smith,

is meant to ensure it becomes more of a public service station, in

exchange for the privilege of being able to boost its programme schedule

dramatically with the ending of the ’funding formula’ insurance payments

to ITV.



As Jackson says, some of the new conditions are ’pretty ambitious’. It

has to bump up production from the regions to 30 per cent by 2002, make

sure its peak time programming consists of 70 per cent originally

commissioned material, drastically cut repeats, while more generally

reviving its mission to be different. But his desire, to have the

channel make the programmes which make an impact, does not mean ratings

will go down. The general rule of thumb is that the more you spend on

your programme budget, the more viewers turn up. This is why the new

Mark Booth-led team at BSkyB is investing hard in Sky One.



This is something bothering ITV, whose executives are busily lobbying to

tie Channel 4 down hand and foot. When I went to the recent Channel 4

launch to advertisers, it was held in a nightclub decked out as a

brothel.



I wonder what Chris Smith would have made of that?



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