Channel 4 Chief Executive Alex Mahon has unveiled a new five-year strategy for the business, Future4 – which will “accelerate its pivot to digital and significantly increase both streaming of Channel 4 content and new revenues”

As part of the new strategy, Mahon said that future commissioning would be aimed at driving All 4’s numbers. She also announced a new Global Content Fund for programming with international potential in which the broadcaster and producer would split the proceeds.

The new “Global Format Fund” will invest in new British-created and produced content formats that have global potential. The fund will initially be worth £30 million over two years, and through it Channel 4 will partner with a range of producers to create content focussed on delivering both UK audience appeal and international exploitation potential. Channel 4 will guarantee minimum runs and recommissioning triggers up front, as well as levels of marketing support. Channel 4 will also “leverage its creative and marketing experience and audience insights to support producers with their international exploitation of the format.”

The Global Format Fund will focus on genres with the “greatest potential for global format success”, including Daytime, Factual Entertainment, Features and Entertainment. Commissioning teams in these genres will create clear editorial briefs with a focus on formatted shows which can “resonate both with UK audiences and have international appeal.”

Within the UK, content created by the Global Format Fund will be subject to the current Terms of Trade.  Internationally, all rights will be controlled by the Producer.   But “Net Receipts from secondary use, format fees and international exploitation, will be shared equally between the Producer and Channel 4.”

The Future4 strategy will drive towards two clear objectives over the next five years: to double the viewing to All 4 and to deliver 30% of total revenues from digital advertising and 10% from non-advertising.

From now on, all of Channel 4’s commissioning, scheduling and commercial strategy will be aimed at growing views and revenue on All 4 – with a “much greater focus on investing in content that can deliver long-term digital viewing growth.”

There will be greater investment in young-skewing formats like Snackmasters or The Dog House; more “innovative reality” like The Circle; comedy-entertainment like Taskmaster; “noisy” documentaries like Leaving Neverland; “compelling factual” series like Prison; more scripted comedy like Derry Girls and Friday Night Dinner; and more young profiling drama like The End of the F***ing World.

Channel 4 will also step up its commitment to original short form content distributed on social media, from its new digital content hub, 4Studio, based in Leeds.  Over 2021 there will be social shorts commissioned across most genres in addition to branded entertainment partnerships such as this year’s Mission Accessible travelogue series with Rosie Jones, and all-female spoken word shorts, Unseen Kingdom.

Following the success of E4’s lockdown digital show, Remote Comedy, there will also be new E4 digital shorts with new talent including Munya Chawawa, in new series What If.   Channel 4’s new strand of unscripted social content aimed at teenagers will also launch in 2021.

Alex Mahon said: “Since it was founded, Channel 4 has invested over £11bn in original British television and we have always been different from other media companies in the way we play our role in that thriving economy. But, as we emerge from this pandemic, I believe the need has never been greater for a public service broadcaster like ours: one that can represent the unheard in our society, can challenge misinformation, and can create change through entertainment for all UK viewers and for our creative sector.

“Our ongoing focus is to continue to deliver our purpose and remit with meaningful scale and impact and I’m incredibly proud that we have already moved our viewing and our advertising revenues to digital at a faster rate than our competitors.  We want to push this even further still, and our new Future4 strategy is about underpinning our commercial sustainability and ensuring that we have a clear plan to transform ourselves into a digital public service media organisation that delivers across the whole of the UK for the future.”

Data will be used across the organisation more effectively to help to “better inform how Channel 4 commissions, schedules, plans, develops its products, markets and sells.”  Within commissioning, this will “in no way replace the creative development process but will be allied with the expertise of commissioners and their production partners to better inform and aid the development of content.”

To support this pivot to digital, the business will roll-out a “much more sophisticated data-led targeting model to inform its content, marketing and product development strategy.”

Future4 strategy will focus on a clear target to deliver 30% of total revenues from digital advertising and 10% from non-advertising by 2025.

Channel 4 will scale up 4Studio – the new digital content studio based in Leeds – to build and “more effectively monetise the organisation’s footprint in social.” This will include new and deeper relationships with social partners as it currently does with Snapchat, in which short-form edits of some of Channel 4 and E4’s biggest shows have been distributed to millions of young viewers on Snapchat.

Channel 4 will also accelerate the take up of All 4+, the ad-free version of its on-demand service, with new content, features and product enhancements.

Channel 4 will also examine options to increase the scale, investment and impact of its Indie Growth Fund and Channel 4 Ventures.

Channel 4’s Director of Programmes, Ian Katz added “To ensure that Channel 4 remains a relevant and vibrant voice in a digital world we know we must now bring all the passion, originality and disruptive flair that we brought to the world of terrestrial TV 38 years ago, to the world of streaming and social media.

So after a breakthrough year for All 4 which saw it achieve record growth, we’re doubling down on the types of programmes that will drive further digital growth. That doesn’t mean the character of the channel will be changing – we’ll be just as noisy, inquisitive and unruly as ever, from uncompromising dramas such as Jack Thorne’s blistering piece on the care home crisis to our upcoming investigation of the power once yielded by notorious publicist Max Clifford.

But, more than anything, over the coming year we’ll do our best to offer viewers an escape from the grimness of a Covid ravaged world with a schedule packed with fun and joy including sparkling new scripted comedy, fabulous new formats like Living Wild and more of viewers’ favourites from The Dog House and Snackmasters to uproariously funny entertainment like Taskmaster. I’m determined that however miserable the news is outside our living rooms, Channel 4 will be an oasis of joy in a joyless age.”

Jon Creamer