Jeremy Lee: A rebellious Channel 4 would be welcome in 'always-on' world

By Jeremy Lee, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 23 June 2011 12:01AM

While the Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham, delivered only a reheated version of an earlier Royal Television Society speech to last week's Media 360 event, it still provided a relevant and interesting counterpoint to views espoused by YouTube's Bruce Daisley, among other digital media evangelists and fundamentalists.

Jeremy Lee

Jeremy Lee

Aside from telling relieved audience members that he was casting aside both the hair shirt and the begging bowl that had ended up being a tedious obsession of his predecessor Andy Duncan, Abraham presented a vision that many will welcome in a world of the homogenised and conservative viewing schedule.

He wants Channel 4 to make a return of sorts to its original place for the awkward squad in society, to challenge the status quo and as a "pressure valve for the seriously pissed-off". Which is all good news for people who care about the plurality of television content, if he and the chief creative officer, Jay Hunt, pull it off. But what was more interesting was his argument that in the connected age, and despite the growth of the internet and search, it is those brands that are established and trusted, such as Channel 4, that will deliver the more valuable audiences. And this on whatever platform they chose.

The channel, as Abraham pointed out, was born in the decade that spanned the Falklands War, the miners' strike and the City Big Bang, when "taboos were being attacked ... fuelling a sense of mission". And with Peter Kosminsky's brilliant and provocative examination of the Israel/Palestine question in The Promise, there are tangible indications that these signs are returning.

Channel 4's distinctive positioning as a cultural force for good is the DNA of its 29-year-old brand. It's what advertisers have been willing to pay a premium for and Abraham hopes it will also allow it (along with the judicious use of data on viewers) to continue to demand a higher price-point. Well that's the challenge for the new sales director anyway.

Creating a brand as powerful as Channel 4, which has the deep relationships with viewers that others do not, does not come about overnight or necessarily by throwing buckets of cash at the problem. This is a lesson that must be apparent to Sky, which spent a rumoured £30 million marketing Sky Atlantic, but is only attracting an average of 30,000 viewers per week with a reach somewhere akin to Sky Living +1.

The Channel 4 brand has been through some tough times but it is resilient and it still promises much for the future. Now we just look forward to seeing what the "major innovations" that will provide complementary data on its audiences will be. Abraham promises these will strengthen its long-term position in the ad market of the connected world.

jeremy.lee@haymarket.com

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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