Channel 4 has revealed a new brand purpose as part of a five-year strategy that aims to focus the broadcaster on digital audiences and revenue streams amid shifting viewer habits and growing competition.

Launched at an event earlier today by CEO Alex Mahon, Channel 4‘s new purpose is to ‘create change through entertainment’. It plans to do that through three commitments that are designed to explain what the business stands for.

These are to represent unheard voices, which includes diverse voices but also those not widely represented such as older people or regional voices; challenge with purpose, which involves holding power to account and testing preconceptions while remaining impartial; and reinvent entertainment, which looks at innovation across TV, film, streaming and social media and reaching audiences in new ways.

Mahon said: “All of this articulates why Channel 4 is different to other media companies and why we continue to matter. I genuinely believe that the need for Channel 4 and our core strengths is more important now than ever as the country seeks to recover from this pandemic.”

This purpose is part of Channel 4’s new strategy, Future4, that aims to make sure the broadcaster “survives and thrives in this digital age”, Mahon said. The aim is to accelerate Channel 4’s push into digital to drive both online viewing and revenues.

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The strategy has four pillars: to put the viewers at the heart of decision-making, prioritise digital growth ahead of linear ratings, diversify revenue streams, and focus on strategic partnerships to compete more effectively in a global world.

Its ambitions include doubling viewing on its video-on-demand platform All4 over the next five years and increasing digital ad revenues to 30% of its total. Digital advertising accounted for 14% of Channel 4’s revenues in 2019 and should account for 17% this year, while digital overall (which includes syndication of All4) is on track to grow from 17% last year to 20% in 2020.

“Our work over the past few years has meant we have a robust financial base, brand strength and a track record of innovation,” explained Mahon. “Our next phase will see Channel 4 innovate and adapt our model. We need to remain relevant and redefine our purpose to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Marketing is expected to play a key role in this new strategy, with CMO Zaid Al-Qassab explaining that it is founded on an understanding of the viewers the broadcaster is trying to serve. He said while consumers are becoming more demanding, Channel 4 is in a “strong place” because of its wealth of first-party data, including on the almost 24 million people who have registered to use All 4.

We need to remain relevant and redefine our purpose to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Alex Mahon, Channel 4

It plans to combine that with deeper research it has done into the attitudes of the British public on topics as diverse as politics, the environment and whether they like Jeremy Clarkson. Plus it will use insights gleaned from social media via its new digital content hub 4Studio.

Channel 4 pointed to the success of 4Studio so far in improving the broadcaster’s reach on social media. In particular, the success of a deal with Snapchat that saw Channel 4 republish content from popular programmes such as Hollyoaks as shorter clips that had almost 2 million unique views.

Al-Qassab said Channel 4 wants to use all that data, where it has consent, to “delight viewers” by offering more personalised experiences through its programming, recommendations and the way it communicates.

“We will place the viewer at the heart of every decision to inform how we commission, schedule, plan, develop, sell and market, and rightly so,” he added. “Digital viewers have a high expectation that we understand them and provide experiences made for them.”

The strategy and focus on digital comes at a difficult time for UK broadcasters as they face mounting competition from other broadcasters as well as streaming services, online video services such as YouTube and social media. They have also faced difficulties as the coronavirus pandemic hit ad sales, with many brands pulling spend particularly during the first lockdown.

However, Channel 4 experienced a £10m increase in revenues in its 2019 financial year to £985m, despite these challenges. And the broadcaster claims to have increased its share of the market for the first time in a decade, as well as broadening its appeal among young audiences.

Mahon said: “The pandemic has proven Channel 4’s flexibility, our financial sustainability and the strength in our model. But it is vital we evolve because the media landscape is shifting. We’re already as well placed as we could be to navigate these shifts.”

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