Channel 4 in the United Kingdom has announced a five-year strategy to put online services first by 2030. It says it is accelerating its transformation to embrace the generational shift in television viewing. The broadcaster has announced plans to cut underperforming channels, lose a sixth of its employees and sell its headquarters in London.

Government plans to privatise the state-owned broadcaster were dropped last year but the corporation, which is mainly funded by advertising, will be required to demonstrate that it will continue to be economically sustainable.

Channel 4 has around 1200 staff but does not make any programmes, which it commissions or acquires from other producers. In the future it will have the ability to retain the rights for programmes that it produces itself. It says it will focus on fewer new titles that could generate greater scale and impact, shifting further to a digital-first commissioning strategy focused on driving streaming growth.

Smaller channels that no longer deliver revenues or public value at scale will be closed, including the Box music channels in 2024, followed by others in the future.

A fall in advertising revenue means that the broadcaster expects to report a deficit for the last year and next and will rely on its relatively small debt facility.

Channel 4

Channel 4 launched its Future4 strategy in 2020 to shift its focus from traditional broadcasting to what it calls digital, by which we assume it means online. Channel 4 has been digital for nearly a quarter of century and exclusively so for well over a decade.

The new Fast Forward strategy is designed to get Channel 4 into the right shape for the 2030s and protect its long-term sustainability.

Online accounted for 27% of total Channel 4 revenues last year and the aim is to reach 50% by 2030. Yet that means that even then traditional broadcasting will represent over half the business.

In December 2023, Channel 4 output was viewed on average for just over 16 minutes a day across the population. Over half of that was for the main Channel 4 service. Non-linear viewing across all Channel 4 output accounted for an average of 1 minute 30 seconds a day.

Together that represents a 9.7% monthly share of all broadcaster viewing but only a 6.2% share of all identified television viewing. In comparison, Netflix accounted for 9.1% of all television viewing in the United Kingdom, including viewing on other devices.

Channel 4 says that it will transform its online platform through outsourced technology to deliver a step change in the user experience for viewers and advertisers. It will expand the use of online channels and build ecommerce facilities to allow viewers to interact and purchase products.

“Channel 4 was designed to be ahead of the curve and has never stood still. The rate of change in our market is only speeding up,” said Chief Executive Alex Mahon. “As we shift our centre of gravity from linear to digital our proposals will focus cost reductions on legacy activity.”