Channel 4 has made it clear that its go-to-market strategy, even in the streaming era, will involve a wide selection of distribution/platform partners rather than a focus on driving and keeping all viewing within its owned-and-operated app environment – meaning All4. The UK commercial broadcaster has just announced a ground-breaking deal that will see Channel 4 long-form content distributed via YouTube, while the company is using TikTok as a way to build audiences for short-form content.
Some (though not all) of the major international studio groups are going all-in on their owned-and-operated (and direct-to-consumer) ‘Plus’ apps, hoping they will become the home for digital viewing of their content. And broadcasters everywhere have been investing heavily in their ‘Player’ services, including deeper catalogues that help them evolve from catch-up services to destinations in their own right. But speaking at Connected TV World Summit three weeks ago, Jonathan Lewis, Head of Commercial Innovation & Partners at Channel 4 Television, explained that Channel 4 was taking a balanced approach to digital distribution.
Focusing on the YouTube deal in particular, he said: “We don’t think this is going to cannibalise audiences on our owned-and-operated platforms. TV is getting older, and YouTube is still the youngest social platform, and big-screen viewing on YouTube is skyrocketing and that is really important to us because people want to watch our content on the big screen.
“We view YouTube as a distribution platform in the same way that we view Sky Glass and other connected TV environments. This is a big pivot [to embrace long-form distribution on YouTube] but the YouTube strategy helps us reach younger audiences and super-charge our digital growth strategy and diversify revenues. It is a significant step in terms of delivering on our Future4 strategy [the high-level strategy C4 announced two years ago to prioritise streaming and grow digital’s share of revenue].”
The YouTube deal applies to the UK and Republic of Ireland and will see Channel 4 making an ever-growing catalogue of content available via the service – reaching around 500 hours next month and something like 1,000 hours by the end of this year. And this is part of a wider digital distribution focus that includes social platforms like Snap, Facebook and TikTok – with TikTok viewed as a natural home for 2–3-minute clips of the broadcaster’s output, which includes often irreverent comedy.
Asked why Channel 4 does not want to ‘force’ streaming viewers to come to its streaming service, All4, to see content [a theoretical possibility in the streaming space], Lewis declared: “We will fish where the fish are.”
He added: “We are doing both [D2C via owned-and-operated, and third-party streaming distribution partnerships]. We are trying to appeal to an audience that we are pretty confident are not going to come to All4. That is why we are going to start building a big presence on TikTok, because we recognised that the format, and the types of content you find on TikTok, won’t work as a 30-minute show [within All4].”
Lewis believes it is important for the Channel 4 brand to be seen, including by people that may not come to the owned-and-operated app. Focusing on TikTok again, he said: “We need to be on that platform and talking to that audience because we want 16-24 year-olds to have an empathy with Channel 4 as a brand, and a sense of what our brand means, and they are not going to get that if we just sit within our walled garden expecting them to come to us.”
Channel 4 views these third-party streaming services / social platforms, and also long-established partners like Sky, as key elements in the future digital distribution strategy. “We were a launch partner on Sky Glass,” Lewis pointed out, referring to Sky’s Pay TV operator created/branded retail Smart TV that ditches satellite tuners and relies on streaming. “We want to offer our service to users where they want to consume it. We see IP [digital/streaming] as a TV delivery that allows us to hold onto audiences, grow them where we can, and in particular grow younger audiences.”
Lewis emphasised how third-party content distribution complements the owned-and-operated environment – observing that when Channel 4 signs a syndication deal for Netflix to show archive programming, viewing of the more recent episodes increases on All4. He cited the [outrageous teen comedy] ‘The Inbetweeners’ as one example. “There is a halo effect.”
The deal with YouTube does not cover international markets but Channel 4 is looking at how it can increase non-UK revenues and it was clear that if the rights agreements could be agreed with the Indie producers (who retain their rights on Channel 4 broadcasted content) then a wider YouTube deal could at least be considered. The same applies for potential FAST channels, although Lewis acknowledged that the broadcaster would need to convince the programme rights holders that Channel 4 curation for international streaming was their best option.
One key point about the UK YouTube deal is that Channel 4 (whose 4Sales is one of the major UK television sales houses) will sell the advertising that appears. “We will have the relationship with the advertisers. We have great relationships with them already and now we can offer a reach extender into younger audiences off-platform.” This direct Channel 4 sell means advertises can also buy directly against content (rather than buying only against an audience).