Bye Bye Channel 4, Hello Imagination

October 14, 2006

channel4_taxi_ident.jpgAfter almost 4 years at the UK’s best broadcaster Channel 4, I’ve moved on to join Imagination, the brand experience specialists. I’ve highlighted here what I did there – but in short – I managed a host of new media projects based upon video distribution and online communities. The web is now awash with video systems with YouTube leading the traffic flow. YouTube was starting up when I was planning FourDocs, and I knew then that it was game over for broadcasters in this area. Why? Well, it the way the law is stacked. Broadcasters like Channel4, ITV and Five dont own any content and worse the OFCOM regulations for broadcasting restrict the lifeblood out of freedom of speech. It’s a draconian system that doesn’t take into consideration the global, non-geographical nature of the internet – and as the web is the formidable network for all communication distributions, adhering to terrestrial concepts of broadcasting enables online entities to lure a global audience. These in turn lures the advertisers away from the decline broadcaster audience.

Further, the 2003 Communication Act, hands over all copyright control of the media you see on the telebox to the production companies. Thus, the industry starts to examine the role of a broadcaster by asking “Where is the value added?” Meanwhile, the Communications Act, though designed to help all producers, has seen the insanely large growth for Super Inde production Industry, namely All3Media, Endemol and RDF. These guys can operate internationally, whereas C4 cant. You can begin to see the problem…

The recent McTaggart Lecture by Charles Allen, after the acceptance from ITV the industry is in sustainability trouble indicates that there is wide spread disbelief that strong branded broadcasters cant hold onto the audience or advertisers even with CCR deals in place. In fact they cant retain has the knock on effect that there is no opportunity for growth – this being the foremost driver for investment for online commerce. Again, the advertising industry flock to the new growth areas to learn and greet the early adopting audiences.

So the embrace of User Generated Content Authentic Media by Channel 4 was a great opportunity for growth. I remember printing of the first releases of Creative Commons licences and leaving them on Commisioners and Editors desks complete with articles about how the business models of open licences opened up a plethora of commercial and creative opportunities that were not available under OFCOM’s rulings. Adam Gee was the first to pick up on this (as the true maverick he is) and we launched the VJ support site Pix ‘n’ Mix and Webit, an education site for kids, using Creative Commons licenced material – material that came from external producers headed up by Dominique Lee and more importantly, TV archives that had been acquired by the ClipBank team. A world first of a broadcaster using Open Licence media – and sadly over looked by the industry.

Fourdocs, which ran alongside the launch More4 was heralded as the Channels foray into Authentic Media. Again, Creative Commons licencing was used, though, much to my frustration, the Non Commercial clause was slapped on the licence. The frustration comes from not being able to explain convince the Executive Producers that: -

1) Channel4 was a commercial entity and using/showing/distributing media under this licence is incorrect as the brand profits from audience retention. This has never been proved in court, though the Adam Curry vs. Weekend case is worth knowing/remembering.

2) A significant reason for people sharing their media is that others can reuse the media, thus spreading the original authors work further. No one really profits from showing video online, it is and will only ever be a leader to sell further services.

Much talk of copyright infringement was had during this project – the backend of the service is a comprehensive system to ensure that copyright is not breached when media hits the site. Remember, the EUCD law is irrelevant if you are a broadcaster as OFCOM will get you first.

My swan song for the firm was 4Laughs, which went live yesterday. I’ve been gone a month and haven’t work on the project for 3. Much of the planning was work of myself and the most excellent Comedy Producer, Russell Barnes. Again, it’s supposed to be an Authentic Media service, and again there is no ability for users to share and develop productions via the site. The legal stuff is really funny. Bold disclaimers that the Channel will use submitted material as it wants to though other users can not. FourDocs used ‘marketing purposes’ as the channels legal reuse fig leaf..

My time at the Channel was a fascinating time, and to honest a privilege. Seeing the workings of a broadcaster from the inside really is living in the belly of the media beast. I remember my father asking me 10 years ago after I left art collage what I was going to do, I said “Something to do with technology and publishing.” I started this blog cautiously whilst at the channel, firstly anonymously as I understood that the voice of Channel4 was impeccably controlled and often didn’t reflect the reality of the business, and thus I found myself not being comfortably blogging about my interests and musings about media, open business processes, licences or marketing. I also knew that hardly anyone there read nor wrote a blog, but all the same, creating ripples just wasn’t worth the effort; I’ve read and watched the ongoing faffing that Robert, Tom, Ben have been through and going through that with the Channel would be unproductive.

Within the organisation I was outspoken about the nature of the online media – I know that that may have raised an eyebrow or two. It came from a sense of responsibility, social (as a consumer of Channel 4 and a managing producer). When you see the global media industries trying to adapt to consumer patterns, actively learning and enthusiastically engaged with new opportunities, whilst yourself is being forced to produce something of a chocolate teapot, you cant not ask what on earth is going on. I’m not a lawyer, but I spent a lot of time reading up on licencing concepts, admittedly inspired by good friend Rob Myers. If you are going to produce good media based products for online communities, understand the rules of engagement comes with this baggage. Ignore the framework and it’s weakness and you’ll find yourself with a huge waste of time to account for.

So all this amounts again asking what is to come of UK broadcasting. No growth, audience and advertisers migration to enabling communities, no ownership of media and spiralling media use licence costs. No advertising income = no programmes. I cant see ITV nor Five being part of the SKY portfolio, as SKY has that audience already. Channel4 has the form of a nice niche brand within Murdoch’s empire. I still think the channel has the brand radiance to engage audiences, to work with them to create what the audience really want..

As Charles Allen pointed out, this is a time for radical thinking. I think he’s wrong. It’s a time for radical listening.
Much of what I’ll now feel comfortable about writing here will be what I’ve been talking about over a coffee with colleagues and friends for the past couple of years: -

“The media object is a catalyst not a destination. Communities are wrapping themselves around communication nodes and in turn are the producers of media. With the support of professional services we will begin to see how language works, and when we do, the need for context advertising, least objectionable TV and search will vanish.”

So as that employment notch is coded into the Linkedin profile, I rejoice in working for Imagination - which seems to be mix of airport departure lounge, technology (software & hardware) media production studios and creative planning. I’m managing the interactive media content in the Samsung Experience Store in New York, whilst being based in London. Alongside that, working on the online strategies, actively exploring open source solutions in commercial environment (think Enterprise Mashups) with the backing of possibly the most interesting IT Director I have ever met..

So I’m running with a job title of Transmission Tactician. It seems to fit the planning and management of communications and projects, for the clients and team…and kills the dreaded uninspiring ‘Project Manager’ title I’ve had for too many years. At last I’ve found the crossroads of media technology, creative planning, online services and open mindedness. Every direction looks good from here.

3 Responses to “Bye Bye Channel 4, Hello Imagination”


  1. […] The basis to the project is that it’s a marketing experiment for the Ford Motor Company. Together we have been developing the project for 6 months. Seeing this live is undoubtedly my proudest moment as it’s the form of communication that I left Channel 4 TV to pursue. […]

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    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!

    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/19/crimesider/entry5251471.shtml

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