MEDIA E4: AN EXPERT'S VIEW - Tim Elton looks at E4 on its first birthday. Can its 'Big Thursday' strategy win younger viewers?

As E4 celebrates its first birthday, it's pushing its "Big

Thursday" line-up of Friends and ER to do the business.



E4 is a fantastic success by any standards. Although multichannel offers

the viewer plenty of choice and caters for many audiences, commercially

it is a tough nut to crack.



Few launches have caught the eye, let alone succeeded. Outside of the

big Sky channels, most other stations seem to have just turned up and

relied on some cross-promotion where they can get it. E4 is competing

for the highly prized "youth" audience and is doing so with ambition. It

is a testament to its launch campaign's unique tone and execution that

it is still clearly recalled 12 months on.



E4's performance is excellent. It is by far the youngest and most

upmarket channel out there. Among ABC1 16- to 34-year-olds (now that's

the audience we're after), it was the fourth satellite channel across

2001.



However, while Big Brother was running live, E4 was number one, whereas

when Big Brother is absent E4 can tumble down to as low as 12th

position.



This raises the issue of which programmes to lead on and promote.



Last Thursday saw the first "Big Thursday", which led with ER and

Friends, and was heavily promoted across Sky Digital.



Both are great programmes but hardly differentiating and groundbreaking

such as Ali G, Banzai, Smallville,Trigger Happy TV and Jackass. It seems

to me these shows are what teens talk about and watch together.



Have Friends and ER still got what it takes? The Friends crew are either

a) doing movies, b) going nuts or c) publicly getting paid too much. The

actors are stars now and too glamorous to be "friends fresh out of

college" and the storylines have lost their comedy edge and become more

serious.



ER? Well, ER was Gorgeous George. Who are this other lot, a bunch of

squares? It's still a great story but the first episode of the new

series might have confused any new viewers as it referred back to

episodes from the previous series.



The profile of the channel means that advertisers quite rightly love it

and "Big Thursday's" first break had Orange text messaging, COI

Communications (for the Army and TTA), a Nelly Furtado CD, a trailer for

the comedy film Rat Race and (the excellent) Grolsch lager, all of which

are of high quality and will be back for more.



There was also a reminder to watch "Second Chance Sunday" when "Big

Thursday" will be shown all over again.



The big-night strategy makes sense as a mechanism for trial and it

appears that the repetitive nature of E4's schedule has had no adverse

effect on the value of those programmes.



To date, Channel 4 must be delighted with its multichannel successes,

although to keep E4 differentiated I wouldn't go for a ninth new series

of ER or Friends.



Channel E4

Frequency Thursday nights from 9pm, repeated Sunday

Audience Not available because of the Barb blackout

Advertisers include Orange text messaging, COI Communications (the Army

and TTA), Grolsch, Paramount Pictures



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