Channel 4 to Start Closing “Small Linear Channels” This Year

Dan Meier 29 January, 2024 

Channel 4 has confirmed it will cut 200 jobs and close some of its linear channels, as part of a five-year strategy to transition to a “digital-first public service streamer” by 2030.

The ‘Fast Forward’ plan aims to “embrace the generational shift that is taking place in TV viewing”, as the broadcaster seeks to compete with international streaming services and video sharing apps. This includes divesting from its “legacy” operations in order to invest in its digital offerings.

The broadcaster announced that the redundancies, first reported earlier this month, will reduce the company’s headcount by 18 percent. Channel 4 specified that 70 percent of the job cuts will affect “legacy operations”, meaning the company’s linear TV business. 

As part of that shift, the broadcaster will close “small linear channels that no longer deliver revenues or public value at scale”. This year, Channel 4 will shutter its Box channels, the company’s music-based network that includes 4Music, Kiss and Kerrang. The broadcaster said it will discontinue other channels “at the right time.”

The strategy also includes plans to move out of Channel 4’s London base “in the next few years”, and finding new office space in the city. The broadcaster restated its commitment to placing 600 roles outside of London by 2025.

FAST forward

Channel 4 will additionally target new revenue streams, including building a “double-digit million ecommerce business by 2030”, allowing viewers to purchase products through its digital platforms.

The company also highlighted free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels to diversify its digital revenues. Channel 4 unveiled its first UK FAST channel, which is dedicated to Married at First Sight, in December 2023. It also launched two FAST channels in the US last year: 4 Adventure and 4 Emergency.

And the broadcaster is looking to increase its subscription revenues from the Channel 4 streaming service, aiming to double the number of paying members on its ad-free tier in the next five years.

The plans also propose forging new distribution partnerships “to enhance visibility of Channel 4 video.” This includes increasing the amount of content the broadcaster distributes on YouTube. Last year the company extended its partnership with Snapchat, which distributes Channel 4 content on the image-sharing app.

The other main aspect of the Fast Forward plan is a “digital-first commissioning strategy”, which will see the company invest in “the types of programming that drive streaming growth”. These include drama, high-end documentaries and reality, according to Channel 4.

Economic reality

Though this digital transformation was already underway at Channel 4, as part of its Future4 strategy, today’s announcement confirms moves to accelerate that transition. Digital revenues accounted for 27 percent of the company’s total revenues in 2023. The broadcaster aims to increase this digital slice to 30 percent in 2024, and to 50 percent by 2030.

The company has been hit by a weak TV ad market, but noted that viewing time on its streaming service is on the rise; Channel 4 streaming time was up by 24 percent last year, according the company. However, Barb ratings show that Channel 4 trails the BBC, ITV, Sky and Netflix in terms of average daily minutes spent watching the broadcaster.

“Channel 4 was designed to be ahead of the curve and has never stood still,” said Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon. “The rate of change in our market is only speeding up. Our new strategy will accelerate our digital transformation – building on 2020’s Future4 strategy and our founding public service principles – so Channel 4 remains a trusted, disruptive and distinctive brand into the 2030s, offering brilliant shows that people love and that matter.

“While getting ourselves into the right shape for the future is without doubt the right action to take, it does involve making difficult decisions. I am very sad that some of our excellent colleagues will lose their jobs because of the changes ahead. But the reality of the rapid downshift in the UK economy and advertising market demand that we must change structurally.

“As we shift our centre of gravity from linear to digital our proposals will focus cost reductions on legacy activity. In preparing for a new digital-first future, I hope we can make Channel 4 simpler – for staff and our suppliers – and create a more efficient, inclusive and high performing organisation.”

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