MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - More4 risks cannibalising its sibling C4 channels

Is there enough room in the marketplace for another C4 offering? Ian Darby reports.

It seems that property shows, fly-on-the-wall cookery programming and bodice-bursting tales of Henry VIII's sex life are what viewers want more of.

This is Channel 4's hope anyway as it prepares for the launch, sometime next year, of a free-to-air channel on Freeview and other digital platforms.

Most likely called More4, it will target the over-35s with this heady mix of housing, history and HRH horseplay.

More4 will be an attempt by Channel 4 to offer a free-to-air vehicle for advertisers on Freeview (which hopes to have four million households by the end of 2004). As such, the new channel will be a different model from E4 and FilmFour (both pay-TV options) but continues Channel 4's strategy of offering carefully segmented audiences for advertisers.

But is this the right strategy and can the market sustain yet another Channel 4 spin-off brand?

Nick Theakstone, the head of investment at MindShare, says: "Channel 4's strength is still its main core-product offer. E4 has had some success but not the biggest in the world, the danger is that More4 starts to take audience from the mothership."

And, given that Channel 4 is delivering close to a record audience peak-time share, this would not go down well with advertisers.

However, Dan Brooke, the managing director of E4 and FilmFour, says: "What we've found with E4 is that it takes a greater share of viewers from other terrestrials than Channel 4. You'd think it would cannabilise the audience but it shows that there is greater demand for Channel 4-style shows than Channel 4 is able to provide."

E4's major success has come with audiences for Big Brother, Friends and ER. But its audience seems to have stabilised rather than being on the increase. The combined share of viewing in multichannel homes for E4 and E4+1was 0.9 per cent compared with 1 per cent a year earlier.

More4 is not a pay-TV project like E4 but some similarities bear comparison.

E4 was launched as a means of bringing in additional revenue from the first showing of prized US programming such as Friends and ER while giving advertisers access to a 16- to 34-year-old demographic. More4, albeit with less reliance on premiered big-name shows, will try to do the same for advertisers with the ABC1, 35-plus market.

Channel 4 sees the Freeview offer as too reliant on the BBC and news channels and believes that it will need more attractive commercial options if it is to reach its target of four million homes by the end of 2004, while arguing that quality programming on a digital platform can take audience from digital and terrestrial rivals.

So will More4 achieve this success for Channel 4 and advertisers? "Until we know what the core pillars of programming strength are, it's difficult to say," Theakstone says. "But there's a worrying question mark over whether there is room in the market for it."

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