Channel 4 Multiplatform
There was a useful article in this week’s Broadcast about Channel 4’s Multiplatform commissioning and its direction of travel, based on an interview with the Multiplatform Lead, Louise Brown. Here are a few extracts [with a few annotations from me]:
C4’s multiplatform commissioning lead has been charged with finding innovative ways to get viewers involved in its campaigns [it’s not limited to campaigns] through apps and online projects.
Multiplatform and convergence have been two key messages coming out of Channel 4 over the past 18 months, and Louise Brown is heading the team charged with innovation [including me whose focus is features and factual entertainment].
As multiplatform commissioning lead, Brown works with five commissioning editors tasked with working on two-screen projects that create meaningful dialogue.
George Clarke’s The Great British Property Scandal is the latest campaign to be getting the full 360-degree treatment, with a season of programmes supported by a range of multiplatform activity including an iPhone app and an online tool for members of the public to identify where there are empty homes, via mapping technology. The key activity is an online petition.
“It’s calling for a change in the law around long-term empty homes being made available for ordinary people to use, as well as setting up a low-interest loan fund,” Brown explains.
The information will be used by democracy project My Society [MySociety made the tools and app, they don’t use the information, the tools pass it on securely] and passed on to the local authorities. Taking lessons from last January’s Hugh’s Fish Fight, which harnessed the mass-TV audience to make a tangible change to policy, Brown is hoping to get more than 10,000 signatures on the petition.
“In multiplatform overall, we are constantly learning; the team’s remit is really to innovate,” she says.
Adam Gee, multiplatform features and fact ent commissioner, has worked on campaigns for both Hugh’s Fish Fight and The Great British Property Scandal. Brown believes his experience can lead to more powerful campaigns in future.
“C4 prides itself on having really impactful programmes. When you have been stirred by a programme, you need to do something with that. That is what is so exciting about having multiplatform at the heart of things now,” she says.
One of the key lessons from the campaigns is that people need to have a variety of access points to do something that is achievable, she says.
Campaigns are not the only area in which C4 is looking to invest. All of its programmes have a web presence, but the level of interactivity will vary, says Brown. “In terms of resources, I would rather have the focus on a few standout, compelling experiences around really appropriate subject matter than try to make everything a little bit multiplatform,” she says.
Brown points to the range demonstrated by The Million Pound Drop Live playalong game, Comedy Blaps, Hippo: Wild Feast Live and forthcoming gameshow Bank Job.
In the ambitious Hippo: Wild Feast Live, a dead hippo was placed on a river and C4 attempted to let the audience watch almost every stage of the animal’s body being consumed as its energy was passed down the food chain. “It came together quite quickly,” she reflects. “Natural history is another area where I really hope we are going to see some more events or experiences. If we get the right subject matter and the right approach, it makes it a uniquely C4 experience. Not everything worked, but if everything is going right, we are not pushing hard enough.”
Despite some technical glitches, the project attracted an audience that was willing to spend time on the website – one of the factors Brown considers when looking at a project’s success.
The starting point when assessing how well a project has done is the number of visits to the site, followed by the number of minutes people spend on the site, and then the number of return visits. On the Hippo project, viewers spent an average of 19 minutes watching a live stream, which culminated in 6,500 hours of live-action views.
Those are the overall markers of success. But each genre should be approached differently as each has its own potential for multiplatform. In scripted content such as drama and comedy, the key thing is talent, says Brown.
C4 has just ordered 14 developments from 200 pitches submitted after its first ever online briefing. The plan now is to increase the frequency of briefings and the number of commissions. “The total focus of my team is finding new talented companies. Sometimes they are content companies and sometimes they are technology companies,” she explains.
“At next year’s briefings, I would like to see more TV companies interested in multiplatform commissioning. We have some of the best digital companies, who come along with really brilliant thinkers, and I would like some of those TV thinkers to come along and meet with them.”
C4’s strategy of two-screen commissioning revolves around the TV, but over the coming year, we can expect to see a more fluid use of ideas. “I would be gobsmacked if an online idea doesn’t migrate onto TV next year. There are ideas we are considering already. There is already a case where it is has gone into a strand for a show. It is absolutely what we think and know will happen,” she says.
Ultimately, C4’s aim of pushing the boundaries in convergence and two-screen has led to a change in the way it commissions and the type of content it is working with, and a deeper understanding of audience behaviour. The next year will only see it building on that foundation.
How to pitch
• Know why your idea is perfect for Channel 4
• Come to our briefings
• Keep up with our current Multiplatform commissions – what you can learn, where you might overlap
• Overthink it – commissioners want to input/help
• Assume the involvement of existing C4 talent
• Pitch comedy or drama without a writer
Channel 4 multiplatform:
A broad development slate
Channel 4 multiplatform commissioners have ordered 14 developments since the online summer briefing.
There’s a non-linear narrative drama and factual-based projects looking at topics such as international finance and food waste, while an entertainment format looks at the depth of friendships online.
Adam Gee has ordered a development looking at international finance. The project, from Cardiff ’s Cube Interactive and Twofour, aims to offer an experience of how international finance works and promises the unusual spectacle of a City trader, a bookie, a housewife and a monkey pitted against each other.
The idea is seen as having potential to translate to TV and could potentially be stripped over a number of days. Ten Alps’ Wasted, another Adam Gee order, focuses on a new chef who promotes how to avoid wasting food. The format will show people how to use their food by the end of the week rather than throw it away.
Intimate Exchanges uses Alan Ayckbourn’s 1982 play to explore the concept of non-linear drama. Multiplatform drama commissioner Hilary Perkins ordered the project from Tern in Glasgow.
A number of potential interactive treatments are being developed based on the themes of the original play. The idea is based on examining how decisions can be made both in a local environment, such as the living room, and how that might compare with regional and national decisions.
An in-depth knowledge of digital culture is the basis for The Network, which is being worked on by Nerd TV. The development, an entertainment format commissioned by Jody Smith, looks at how well people’s online friends really know them, and is another development earmarked as a possible TV transfer.