Channel 4 has promised increased spending on news and broadcasting at least one documentary every weekday in peak time as part of its blueprint for broadcasting in a digital age.
The plans were unveiled as part of the Next on 4 mission statement by the broadcaster, aimed at making its case for retaining its public service remit and some form of public subsidy in a digital age.
The increased spend on news will include continued expansion of news online and into radio. One project in the pipeline is a link-up with social networking site Bebo to bring Channel 4 news to a younger audience. Connecting with a youth audience through public service values formed a key strand of the blueprint.
Director of TV and content, Kevin Lygo said that Channel 4 would dedicate 260 hours in peak each year to documentaries. ‘I want us to be the home of the British documentary,’he said. ‘This aspect of Channel 4’s public service delivery is under appreciated. We are the only mainstream commercial network consistently serving a significant audience with serious journalism and factual narratives. These programmes help society understand itself. They are disappearing from network television.”
The blueprint outlined how Channel 4 sees its public role extending from broadcast into new digital media including digital radio and online. As part of this, Channel 4 has launched a new £50m creative fund to finance public service digital media.
The Four Innovation for the Public (4IP) fund will be bankrolled by Channel 4 and a number of regional agencies for the first two years, with the broadcaster providing £20m of the funds. The Bebo news and current affairs partnership is one plan being considered under the pilot. Other public service broadcasting genres like sport, comedy and drama will be reconfigured to reach new audiences online.
Channel 4 also promised to have more new programming in peak time than any other public service broadcaster. It will also seek to nurture new talent with initiatives like New Talent Month in August this year which could give a new reporter a chance on Channel 4 News.
The Next on 4 presentation took place at Channel 4 headquarters this morning, after what the broadcaster called its most exhaustive review since it launched in 1982. It comes ahead of an OFCOM review into public service broadcasting, which will publish its first proposals next month.
Channel 4 is looking to plug a £100m funding gap, which it estimates will emerge by 2012 when digital switchover significantly reduces the value of the current subsidy in the form of gifted analogue spectrum.
It is looking for 15 per cent of its total income to come from some form of public subsidy but has said it has no preferred form of receiving this. Ofcom is said to be looking at a number of options. The BBC has already sought to head off any suggestion that the subsidy could come from top slicing the licence fee. Channel 4 chair Luke Johnson said it must be delivered in a form that secures both its financial future and editorial independence.
Johnson said that as well as new forms of public support for Channel 4, a new legislative framework was also needed. ‘It should reflect Channel 4’s ongoing transition to become a public service multi-media network, delivering public value through a portfolio of TV channels and services on digital media platforms,’he said.
Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said that the broadcaster should remain a public purpose organisation. ‘If the BBC is the cornerstone of our public service broadcasting system, I believe, more than ever, that Channel 4 is the cornerstone for providing the essential ingredient of plurality.”