Media Perspective: Channel 4 should be praised for trying to justify its demands

You can't fault Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, for his rather nerdish brand of enthusiasm.

Selling the vision for Channel 4's future over recent days, he has come across as a man with the appetite to take the broadcaster into the next stage of its development.

Which makes a change from the defensive attitude adopted last year as Channel 4, like the rest of television, experienced some dark days. This was considerably worse for Channel 4 as, in addition to the phone-in scandals that engulfed all the major broadcasters, it had to face vitriolic attacks in the face of its Celebrity Big Brother coverage.

Out of this, though, may have emerged something positive as Channel 4 embarked on a period of almost enforced introspection and conducted the most fundamental review of its role in the media economy since it launched in 1982. For once, it has really taken the time to sit down and reflect on its future.

The result is a raft of measures designed to demonstrate its relevance in the digital age. But are these much more than token gestures, designed to flex its public service credentials before going to the Government for a funding solution that will ensure its future?

Most of what Duncan unveiled last week in his "Next on 4" blueprint seemed squarely aimed at impressing government and media regulators. For instance, a £10 million investment in children's programming is laudable, but unlikely to set the world alight. It will be interesting to see if the £50 million "4IP" digital media fund, which will see Channel 4 work with a range of development agencies across the UK on digital content, will create anything worthwhile.

Of more interest to advertisers is the commitment to air more new programming in peaktime than any other broadcaster, which will be delivered by cutting back on US imports by 20 per cent, freeing £35 million for extra investment in UK-originated content.

Yet, if this content disappoints in audience terms, its public service value will be of little relevance to advertisers. But at least Channel 4 has shown some common sense in outlining just why it has a vital role to play going forward in terms of offering independent programming that targets diverse audiences. In the past, it has merely got the begging bowl out for more Government funding with only vague justification.

Now the hard lobbying will start, with indications that Channel 4 wants a decision on greater levels of funding from the Government by the end of the summer. "Next on 4" was a well-timed, if obvious, bit of marketing ahead of this push, with little specific to excite advertisers. Still, they should be reassured that this seems a new, confident Channel 4 that is sure of its place in the world.