Reviewed: Channel 4's upfronts

05 Jul 2018  |  David Pidgeon 
Reviewed: Channel 4's upfronts

Channel 4 hosted its upfronts this week, moving the show to the summer for the first time, apparently to allow the broadcaster’s new CEO and director of programmes an earlier opportunity to address the advertising and agency clients.

To start there was mild panic from the audience that there were no chairs - but that was because the 'boring bit' was just 30 brisk minutes reiterating the channel’s overall strategy, showing off some new shows, and making a pretty robust case for sticking with the broadcaster - particularly if you want to reach ‘youngs’ as they were simply called at one point, although that was perhaps just a mistake reading the autocue.

New CEO Alex Mahon (passionate, relaxed, said 'phenomenal' a lot) talked of boosting scale and building "new, young brands.” She also wants to open up the 10pm and 11pm slots by experimenting with “fresher” and “edgier” shows.

Yet the stand-out trailers on the night were for prime-time comedy drama Pure (about an obscure OCD sexual problem) and a hybrid dancing-dating show called Flirty Dancing. Both seemed to impress the audience.

Meanwhile, to help keep its youth brand, E4, well, youthful, an extra £10m of investment has been made and Electric Ray's Karl Warner has been appointed as controller with a mission to build the brand across on-demand and social media.

Drawing on her tech background, Mahon went on to say that with the broadcaster under her control it would be “accelerating its digital capabilities and mindset,” as it seeks to capitalise on All 4’s growth (the VoD player’s viewing was up 16% last year).

Investment in the platform is going to increase in 2018 and a new chief product officer will be appointed over the summer. The Vice/All4 deal, announced last month, was flagged as part of this strategy.

The fear of losing young people to the likes of Facebook and YouTube was obvious, and there were a couple of well-placed digs at those platforms, which had their viewing figures unpicked (or perhaps the term is de-numberwanged) and brand safety credentials mocked.

There’s also to be a shift in the overall commissioning strategy so that shows “work across all platforms” to reflect how viewers now watch TV. You can’t accuse the broadcaster of not keeping up with the times.

Our view is that, in the wake of digital change and new competition, Channel 4 is looking pretty confident. There were jokes about having a mid-life crisis, but the content offering looks strong, the investment in digital seems to be paying off, and the viewing figures are pretty good (nabbing Bake Off clearly worked out).

The upcoming adtech – AI-driven, contextual advertising – also looks very promising.

After the boring bit the clients and agencies were free to mingle with the celebs, watch exclusive screenings, fly to mars with Sean Penn and Beau Willimon, and experience the mess of the bake-off kitchen. It felt like a proper media summer party, but the broadcaster shouldn’t forget that winter is coming, and competition for eyeballs is going to remain tough.



@David_Pidgeon

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