Channel 4 Launches MAFS FAST Channel, Renews Snapchat Vows

Dan Meier 07 December, 2023 

Channel 4 has launched its first free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channel in the UK, in the form of a 24/7 channel dedicated to Married at First Sight UK.

MAFS Live will air episodes from series 6-8 of the dating show around the clock. It will be available on the Channel 4 BVOD service for two months, accessible via web browsers, mobile devices and tablets.

The UK broadcaster said the aim is to “gauge viewer appetite for the FAST format”, suggesting further moves into the FAST market are on the cards.

During the pilot period, the broadcaster will monitor viewer engagement, tracking views and user behaviour. These insights will be used to inform the future FAST strategy, according to Channel 4, while allowing the company to respond to real-time feedback.

“FAST is swiftly becoming a popular feature with viewers across the globe and we’re excited to bring MAFS fans a new way to enjoy non-stop hours of their favourite show,” said Alex Wall, Head of Streaming Editorial, UK & International, at Channel 4.

Doing the MAFS

The move follows Channel 4’s first forays into FAST in September, when the broadcaster launched two such channels in the US. The new brands, 4Adventure and 4Emergency, landed on Tubi, Plex and Xumo Play, followed by Google TV this week.

“After a successful launch in the Summer, we are continuing to grow our FAST strategy in the US in partnership with a number of platforms, with our most recent launch this week on Google TV,” said Alex Wall.

The strategy sees the network continue its push into digital content, following last week’s news that the company is struggling to recover lost ad revenues. Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon told a Commons select committee that the TV market is facing the worst advertising downturn in 15 years, and the public service broadcaster (PSB) could be forced to dip into an emergency debt facility next year.

To reduce its reliance on declining linear TV revenues, the commercially funded PSB is pivoting to a digital-first business model. Under its “Future4 strategy”, the company aims to have 30 percent of revenues come from digital advertising by 2025, and had digital make up 22 percent of revenues in 2022. But with Channel 4 still reliant on linear advertising for around two-thirds of its revenues, questions remain over whether this digital transformation is moving FAST enough.

Coupling up

As part of that digital transition, Channel 4 is leaning into social media to reach younger audiences and monetise youth-oriented, short-form content. Today the PSB announced an extension to its relationship with image-sharing app Snapchat, which began in 2018.

The new deal will see the companies collaborate on “Snap-first” content, according to the broadcaster. The channel will create a new series with a built-in Augmented Reality (AR) component, but further details are undisclosed until next year.

It is worth noting that the Media Bill, currently making its way through parliament, is expected to enable Channel 4 to produce its own programmes, which could also help make the broadcaster less reliant on the TV advertising market.

In addition, Snap will publish select content from Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage next year. And the partners will work together to package compilations of Channel 4 shows, including the reality format Body Fixers. The partnership also sees Snapchat carry short-form clips from Channel 4 titles, such as First Dates, Hollyoaks and Made In Chelsea.

Image sharing meets rights sharing

Channel 4 noted the Snap partnership’s role in its Future4 strategy, which intends to “prioritise digital growth over linear ratings, diversify new revenue streams and focus on partnerships.” The short-form content will be delivered by 4Studio, Channel 4’s social-first content arm. And sales rights to this content will be shared between Snap and 4Sales, Channel 4’s commercial division.

The broadcaster said this strategy of distributing content on social media is proving effective at reaching younger viewers. Snapchat has more than 21 million UK users, some 60 percent of whom are aged 15-25. Across all social channels, Channel 4 generated over 3 billion views in the first half of 2023, according to the PSB.

“This partnership furthers our bid to serve young audiences and typifies the approach we are taking to reaching viewers, wherever they are,” said Joe Harbinson, Senior Distribution & Partnerships Lead, Commercial Innovation, at Channel 4. “Not only will we continue to innovate in how we adapt formats of our existing programming on new platforms, but we will also innovate by creating bespoke content to maximise the benefits of every platform for viewers and advertisers.”

“Having collaborated with Channel 4 over the past five years, our renewed and expanded partnership is a key part of our strategy to bring diverse and relevant content from world class media brands to our UK community,” added Lucy Luke, Head of UK Partnerships at Snap. “With the exciting year ahead in sports, the opportunity to bring the Paralympics content to millions of Snapchatters is very exciting, building on our sports offering platform wide. We’re excited to continue to deepen our relationship with Channel 4, working to deliver exciting new formats and continue to innovate together.”

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