Channel 4

Channel 4
   Launched in 1982 under the 1980 Broadcasting Act, Channel 4 (C4) has proved itself a viable, profitable and innovative channel, albeit one that attracts controversy. C4 was created with a specific purpose, to serve minority and alternative tastes and interests and to revolutionize programme production. It was also deliberately framed to bring market disciplines to the production industry, since C4 was not to produce its own programmes, but would commission them from independent companies. Thus, the new station would bring some competition to the industry, in line with Thatcherite economics. The channel would also concentrate on education.
   In many ways, C4 has been a success. The station has built up a loyal base and distinctive identity and has kept its market share at around 11 percent. However, its minority remit has not been to everyone’s liking, particularly under Michael Grade: seasons of programmes about sex (the ‘Red Light Zone’), homosexuality, homelessness and other challenging subjects caused right-wing critic Paul Johnson to dub Grade ‘Britain’s pornogra-pher-in-chief’. Brookside also attracted considerable controversy (notably for a lesbian kiss in 1994), as did Lipstick on your Collar, Eurotrash, The Girlie Show and The Word. Perhaps such criticism is inevitable, however, since C4’s remit is for material that would not find its way onto ITV and that reflects minority tastes.
   Equally, C4 has made a significant contribution towards the British film industry, backing movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, and showcasing other British films that would not appeal to ITV In the mid-1990s, C4 has also been successful in importing several American soaps and dramas such as Friends, ER and NYPD Blue. But C4’s success also forced changes to the funding formula created by the 1990 Broadcasting Act. It was argued that C4’s advertising revenue was unstable, so any shortfall below a certain level would be underwritten by the various ITV companies. However, C4’s strong portfolio since then has meant the station has been penalized by the formula, since any advertising surplus is shared out amongst the ITV companies. By 1996, this was running at £60m, which Grade called a ‘sick joke’. However, 1996 also saw C4 fighting the possibility of privatization. Grade argued that C4 served a distinctive purpose that a duty to shareholders would destroy or negate, and his determined campaign won the day. Grade subsequently resigned as CEO in 1997, leaving the station in a very healthy situation.
   See also: Channel 4 Films; Channel 5
   Further reading
    McRobbie, A. (ed.) (1982) Four on 4, Birmingham: Birmingham West Midlands Arts.
   SAM JOHNSTONE

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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