Media Headliner: C4 targets older upmarket viewers with More4

Peter Dale, the new channel's head, tells Ian Darby a grown-up schedule will deliver a small but perfectly formed audience.

It's programming designed to run around Audi ads," one agency director says of More4, Channel 4's new channel, which is set to launch next week.

Or, taking an alternative view, Channel 4 with all the populist stuff, such as Big Brother, cut out. More4, a free-to-air channel available on Freeview, Sky Digital and cable from 10 October, aims to offer grown-up entertainment of the kind not currently found in the multichannel environment.

It will air documentaries, films (including the UK premiere of the Oscar-nominated film Downfall), news and acquired programming such as The West Wing and Curb Your Enthusiasm. This is E4 for an older, ABC1 generation.

Agencies seem genuinely impressed by Channel 4's plans for More4. The channel was initially developed under the regime of the former chief executive Mark Thompson as a budget repeats channel to fill one of Channel 4's slots on Freeview. But the plans have since changed and it now has a budget of £33 million, much of which will be spent on commissioning its own programming.

Andy Zonfrillo, the broadcast buying director at MindShare, says: "It's the right thing to do in a fragmenting market with lots of choice. Channels with a strong terrestrial parent tend to perform well in that market.

It's obvious More4 is a channel with strong programming values and it provides Channel 4 with the ability to appeal to two different audiences with multichannel - a youth audience with E4 and a more upmarket audience with More4."

Chris Locke, Starcom's group trading director, says the timing of the launch, as with that of ITV4 next month, is no coincidence. "It's launching now so that it can be built into trading conversations for 2006. It's part of this strategy terrestrial TV companies have, as they lose audiences, of fielding the equivalent of five slip fielders to pick some of the money up, albeit at a reduced price."

Locke is a fan of the More4 offering, arguing that while ratings might be low, (Channel 4's director of television, Kevin Lygo, has predicted a 0.5 per cent audience share), the audience will be "perfectly formed".

The launch will also, Zonfrillo argues, be of massive benefit to Freeview, which by the end of the year will be able to offer viewers a channel line-up that includes E4, More4, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4. There is also Sky's new channel Sky Three, the rebadged Sky Travel channel, which gives Sky an entertainment foothold on Freeview.

More4's challenge, both on Freeview and in the greater clutter of the Sky Digital environment, is to achieve standout. Peter Dale, the head of More4, is confident that it can pull this off.

"I think there's a real gap for More4," Dale says. "If you look at the channels available, you can find a lot of derivative stuff - you see that with the number of property shows there are.

"We know that to our cost, with Discovery Home and Leisure running our property programmes, so there is a real need to bring the brand back in-house, increase our share of the market and grow some great channels."

The feeling is that Channel 4's ability with marketing and cross-promotion should help it achieve stand-out. More4's launch campaign, running liberally on Channel 4 and featuring stars such as The West Wing's Martin Sheen, seems reminiscent of the way in which the BBC uses its channels to cross-promote.

Dale was previously Channel 4's head of documentaries, commissioning commercial successes such as Faking It, Wife Swap and Jamie's School Dinners as well as regular documentary strands such as Cutting It and Dispatches.

The channel is cast very much in his image - alongside the comedies and general entertainment will lurk the kind of documentaries and films that the 50-year-old Dale has either commissioned, directed or enjoyed watching.

He says: "It's a big, bold thing to do because the traditional view is that high-end, factual programming doesn't pay - gameshows and dramas are the ones that pay. I don't think that's true, and with shows such as Faking It and Wife Swap, we showed that you can make intelligent, thought-provoking TV while attracting a large audience."

The vision for More4 became more ambitious when Andy Duncan replaced Thompson as its chief executive. Both Duncan and Lygo, Dale says, thought that it "wasn't very Channel 4" to launch a repeats channel. Dale was asked to look at developing something more challenging and More4 is the result.

More4 will start each day at 4pm with a film, then repeats of shows such as Grand Designs and Time Team. At 8pm, there will be news, which, like Channel 4 News, will be produced by ITN. Documentaries and a show called The Last Word, a current affairs discussion, will follow. Saturday will be a catch-up day of repeated programming and on Sunday, lighter, general entertainment will air.

Once a month, on a Monday night, there will be a landmark programme.

The first is A Very Social Secretary, a drama/documentary about David Blunkett's affair with the Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn. Future slots will feature Animal Research, a documentary about animal experimentation and the premiere of Downfall.

Dale is relishing the challenge ahead. "It's a wonderful job. I get to launch a channel that isn't about pole-vaulting, but something that people will actually want to watch. I have a feel for a certain type of programming," he says.

His aim for More4 is that it will cover its start-up costs and turn a profit to be ploughed back into Channel 4 within its first few years.

Some critics have expressed fears that it might be used to bury some of Channel 4's more challenging public service output, leading to a watered-down main product.

Quite the opposite, Dale says: "More4 can be a place where we can research and develop stuff, try out formats, presenters and writers." Something a bit more than just fodder for those German engines, then.

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