Which of us, hand on heart, can really claim to remember what it
was like to watch Channel 4 back in July 1997, the month and the year in
which Michael Jackson arrived to take up the reins as chief
After all, the media industry is notorious for its short attention
But one thing's for sure - if we'd been told back then that, within a
few short years, Channel 4 would be home to both Test cricket and
Richard and Judy, we would, to use a very un-Channel 4 phrase, have been
The truth is that Jackson managed to reinvent British broadcasting's
most distinctive proposition almost without us noticing, widening the
channel's horizons while not losing sight of its core commitment to
Jackson was a success story before he arrived at Channel 4, obviously,
first as an independent producer and then as that most exotic of
broadcasting creatures, an achiever nourished by the intellectual wing
of the BBC.
But this year's Campaign Media Achiever of the Year Award is primarily
in recognition of Jackson's monumental achievements at Channel 4 as he
begins yet another new challenge in the States.
The success or failure of a creative regime is usually measured by the
quality of its output. So if you want to feel the width as well as the
quality of output during Jackson's reign, here's a sample list: Ali G,
Graham Norton, Trigger Happy TV, Queer as Folk, Big Brother, This Is
Modern Art, Longitude, Black Books, The 1940s House, The Mark Thomas
Product, Tina Goes Shopping, Shooters.
Back in May, Channel 4 won 11 Bafta awards, more than the BBC and ITV
combined. And that's just the homegrown material. He also made it
possible for Channel 4 to help fund films like East is East and
And while the British stuff was winning awards, he made sure the ratings
were buoyed up with astutely purchased US imports, like West Wing, ER,
South Park and Friends.
In the multichannel age, it no longer feels a duty to scandalise. Not
always at any rate. Some radical critics sneered at Jackson when, in a
rare lapse, The Daily Mail earlier this year announced that it now loved
Channel 4. But the affair, unhappily, didn't last and within weeks The
Mail was once more in need of smelling salts following the broadcast of
a Brass Eye spoof documentary about paedophilia. Which was naturally
tagged "The Sickest TV Show Ever".
Channel 4 is now comfortable in its new role as a "challenger brand" - a
provocative part of mainstream rather than beyond the pale. It's a
strategy that's good for ratings and, consequently, the revenue has
And it now keeps all of that cash following Jackson's successful
campaign to sever all ties with ITV, which previously laid claim to a
share of profits.
That isn't the only structural innovation under Jackson.
He launched both FilmFour and E4 and has encouraged the development of a
multi-platform family of media brands appropriate to the digital
He clearly has the gift, once liberally ascribed to such as Rupert
Murdoch, of "seeing round corners".
It's a talent that will stand him in good stead as he faces new
challenges on the other side of the Atlantic. Jackson is a worthy winner
of Campaign's fourth Media Achiever of the Year Award.
Finally, this year's media achiever of the year award can't pass without
marking a new departure in the career of Chris Ingram, whose Tempus
group was acquired earlier this month by WPP. Through the companies he
founded, most notably CIA, Ingram was instrumental in establishing the
concept of the media independent, not just in the UK but in the rest of
The advertising world would be a very different place without his
Campaign wishes him well in any future projects.
Previous winners: 2000 Caroline Marland; 1999 Marjorie Scardino; 1998
THE JACKSON FILE
2001: President and chief executive, USA Entertainment Networks
1997-2001: Chief executive, Channel 4
1996: Controller, BBC1
1993: Controller, BBC2
1991: Head of music and arts, BBC Television
1989: Founding editor, The Late Show
1980-89: Active in the independent production sector. Instrumental in
the foundation of the Independent Programme Producers Association and
the Channel 4 Group, which lobbied for independent access to the new
1979: Graduated from Polytechnic of Central London