“Channel 4 is funded by advertising. Channel 4 is owned by you”

Posted by in November's Magazine

I noticed this on a bus recently and found it startling (writes Mark Young). It brought to mind the early days of the channel from 1982 (some thirty-four summers distant). Back then it was only partially funded and it might surprise a modern readership to know that it often lay dormant, showing a cue card identifying upcoming programmes backed by a rolling theme tune and – bliss – no adverts for as much as twenty minutes an hour.

One year later, once corporate Britain realised there actually was a market for gay drama, pre Lord of the Rings Ian McKellen playing disabled and that wonderful pastiche of Enid Blyton by The Comic Strip Presents…(and this was just the opening night) things got even better. But then, like any institution, age makes even the most progressive a little slower, more conservative and more mainstream.
(Would they get away with this dialogue from Five Go Mad In Dorset – regarding a black porter – today)?
“I say Julian, that man looks foreign.”
“I expect his name’s Gollywog!”
“Yes, or Tarzan!”


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Advertising is in peril, and despite contempt for Desmond Bagley’s maxim ‘If it doesn’t have a price, it isn’t worth having’. Or enthusiasm for Bill Hicks’ desperate assertion: “If you work in advertising or marketing please kill yourselves now,” that which costs needs paying for. In print the rules are clear. As a hypocrite, and despite hating advertising – I advertise. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have an income outside repeat custom, and as most of my clients are quite old, they won’t last forever. I cleave to the hope this is the acceptable face of hypocrisy, like refusing to believe in the moon landings, but not thinking yourself a religious dolt afraid of science.

The digital corollary of ads permeates our daily use of Facebook, Gumtree, Google, Yahoo, Ebay, Amazon, etc. The observant among you will however have noticed that Ad blockers are all the rage online just now and they are not going away. Is it really theft, taking your attention away from commercial spots? Or does the software merely represent a mechanised form of noise removal? Like sandblasting a graffiti ridden wall.

In TV with time shifting personal video recorders, and ad skippers that go directly from the end of part one > to the start of part two where’s the funding model now? I get it – good writing need money to bring it to our living rooms. So where’s the budget when your client base is censoring your ability to raise revenue? Are we reduced the licence fee (aka subscription)?

The BBC battles to convince the public of worth, against a commercial quagmire of content. Eventually all will stream and originate from live or pre-recorded web sources. Recent developments in YouTube and the like are stepping up to the 4K hi-def challenge and live streaming of major news and sports events.
Cursory glances at millennial behaviour amongst friends’ kids, yields a shrug at BBC iPlayer (and commercial clones) and a preference for the short punch of YouTube’s pre-recorded two-minute novelty videos; action sports, video games, news in sixty seconds, top ten this-and-that. God, do these kids have no attention span? Well, yes and no. King Canute stood against the tide and got wet slippers, but as a technological optimist, an ignorer of news, but a lover of history. I think we need to extend our attention span and look to the future.

A cursory scan of the streets shows we’re overly dependent on the small screen, often for no good reason. We’re all Pavlov’s dog now. (The pooch that salivated on being taught that the ring of a bell meant meaty morsels were just around the corner, even when they weren’t.) In the smart device age, it means software has detected that you are the subject of interest from ‘someone’ you probably know, discussing ‘something’ you might be interested in. From the dawn of primitive electronic games in 1975 to the present, technological pre-disposition to obsess over small screens is already passé. Presuming tech is mainstream now, are we not all autistic?

If we truly own Channel 4*, should we not be paying directly for it, rather than buying cornflakes, tampons, coffee or cheese? Why don’t we all send them a fiver or contemplate a licence fee? Maybe we could ask its Chief Executive David Abraham. After all, he formally approached the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for advice on an alternative funding model. Go public service!
*I get that Channel 4 is not as good as it used to be, but at least it’s having a pop at being not totally shit – okay, exiling Big Brother to Channel 5 is a start, but it is palpably not enough – but we must give it the benefit of the doubt.

Mark Young

One response to ““Channel 4 is funded by advertising. Channel 4 is owned by you””

  1. I want to thank you for posting such an educational blog. Facebook, YouTube and other social site still have enough depth to make career..

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