CMO Dan Brooke on how Channel 4 Have Become a Digital Business


Talking at our sister site's Marketing Transformation conference, Dan Brooke, CMO of Channel 4 shares how he has helped to reinvent the broadcaster as a digital business

Thank you very much for coming - that’s what the person on the front desk of Channel 4 sometimes says to me as I leave for the evening, but I say it to you with a different kind of enthusiasm and sincerity.

Now we’re obviously here to talk about digital marketing and actually what I’m gonna do is talk more broadly than that and talk to you about how Channel 4, we are now almost entirely a digital-only brand and business. And I’m gonna talk about four ways in which I believe that’s true; in our content creation, in distribution, in the way we engage with our viewers, our customers and also in marketing.

We’re a TV company so I’m going to show you some videos - no powerpoint - but before I do that, as I’ve, as I’ve got you as a captive audience, I just want to bend your ear with some observations both about the television industry overall, but also about Channel 4.

Now obviously digital has had a profound impact on lots of different media businesses. It’s had particular kind of impact on the music business and the press, but really less so television, in that way. Digital is completely transforming the television industry, but in a good way. We, essentially - you're probably not surprised to hear - see digital completely as friend and not as foe. So although I work in the media and therefore believe everything I read in the papers, there is one exception to that, which is when I read regular newspaper articles about how television is falling apart, the end of our world is nye, and it’s simply not true. I mean when you look at viewing of audiovisual content, 90% of it is to the television in the home and the remaining 10% which is basically viewing done online, the majority of that is to the online services that have been set up by the - in quotes - traditional broadcast as well as through BBC iPlayer or 4od. So YouTube and Netflix is really quite, still a very small proportion of all consumption of all audiovisual content.

Now I would say that television has never, as an industry, has actually never been in better health. You might be surprised to hear that. I’d say that is particularly true in the UK because I believe we have the most creative and diverse television scene here in the UK. I would say now even more so than the US. Now why is that? People say it’s because we’ve built up this system, where we have what is called a very rich ecology of different companies. So you have the public service broadcasters - which is the biggest of that is the BBC which is obviously a significant state intervention, funded by, funded by public money in the form of the licence fee. They take about a third market share, but you've also got Channel 4, ITV, and Channel 5 who are also what’s called ‘public service broadcasters’. Where essentially, we are required to make things, which it is believed otherwise the market might not necessarily make. So significant levels of UK-produced content but also a whole load of genres like news and current affairs, for example, or children’s which is felt that the market, certainly with UK content wouldn't provide on a pure profit maximising basis.

But then you've also got the other side of the industry which is the multi-channel sector which obviously Sky is by far the biggest player. But what you’ve got as a result of this system is quite a variety of distinct organisations - different in sizes, different in business models, trying to do different things - and that is what’s created this incredibly plural, if you like, range of content aimed at a variety of different audiences. So my main message to you at this stage of the speech is if you like watching television, then you definitely shouldn’t emigrate because it won't make you happy going to another country and watching the TV that they have there relative to here.

Now what place does Channel 4 have in that? We are an unusual beast because you might be surprised to hear that we’re state-owned, like the BBC but unlike the BBC, we are entirely commercially funded so the vast majority of that is advertising. We’re also a not-for-profit and we’re also a publisher broadcaster. So that means that we commission all of our programs from outside production companies, we have no in-house production. There’s all sorts of reasons to do with the development and incentivisation of the market why those, why we have those characteristics.

We also most significantly are the one that the government has decided from day one, we’re the one that is asked to be different. So we have a public service remit given to us by parliament, set out in legislation to be innovative, to be distinctive, to represent alternative points of view, to develop new talent and there’s a range of other things. And I hope that, you know, you would listen - you would hear those things and see - you know - recognise, recognise them in what you see on the television from Channel 4. But this ad which we’ve done recently...I’ve got to press the button... I think - I hope - puts it in a nutshell:

Video: [He found it tremendously difficult to speak. He was incredibly badly teased because he didn't have a voice then and he’s got one now. To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk being called sentimental. To expose feelings is to, is to risk exposing your true self. To try is to risk failure. To live is to risk dying. But the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing. Only the person who risks is truly free. Channel 4 was set up to take creative risks and put it’s profit back into programmes. We were born to experiment. Born to challenge. Born risky.]

So that makes me feel good when I watch that. I feel that I'm incredibly proud to work at Channel 4. So much so I'm on my second tour of duty. People day you should never go back, but I have, and I’m very very happy about that. I want to, let’s move on now to Channel 4 and digital, which is an incredibly important subject for us, particularly given our special relationship with younger viewers, which has always meant, I would say that we have - as we call it - we face the future first relative to our competitors.

First thing just at the head, just to draw a distinction between digital and the internet or online, because obviously the latter is a subset of the former and I’m really talking about digital as a whole. So in terms of the content that we make, it is now all made digitally. Everything is filmed on digital cameras, all editing is digital. I mean there are maybe one or two film directions that we work with who have some 35ml under their bed but they are very much the exception. And we’ve also experimented extensively with now with native digital content. So multiplatform commissioning of content is a completely integral part of our operation within Channel 4. For television programmes we work with about three hundred different producers up and down the range and breadth of the country. But we also work with one hundred native digital producers, and most of that is - what I would call - through making what I would call companion content, so it’s content that’s made to be delivered online, but it’s connected to TV programmes that appear on the TV sets, so I mean, examples of that would be the Million Pound Drop - game that you can download as an app and, or it’s also available on dot-com and you can play along with Million Pound Drop as you're watching. Or there’s quite a lot of shows in a particular in a public service way, where we produce companion content. So Hollyoaks for example - our team - so that has a kind of weaving storyline within it about cyber-bullying and you can go online and find out a lot about the issues of cyber bullying, how to deal with it. And we’re constantly experimenting. So one of the most recent things that we've done is an experiment with audio watermarking. So that’s where the, there is an inaudible to the human ear signal, that’s put out with the television broadcast but which your mobile device can hear, and we did that a thing called horse tracker with the Grand National, so every horse, in the saddle of every horse there’s a little chip put in and that it’s providing second by second real-time data so that you can put into your app ‘this is the horse that I’m following’ and then it literally you can watch a little diagram of where it is. And obviously in the Grand National there’s a lot of horses so when you're watching on the telly you know, seeing exactly which yours is, is less easy to do than when you’ve got it on the app, that was very successful.

And we’re also making now stand-alone native content. So we’ve recently launched a short service called 4 Shorts and that enables me to play this cheery ad which we just put out to launch the service:

Video: [This summer Channel 4’s bringing you Short Shorts. Original short shows, all just a few minutes short, exclusively on 4od.]

So that’s doing well for us that service and what's been quite interesting for us to see with that it that the time of day consumption for it is mostly during the day rather than in peak time and it’s the opposite for that for television viewing.

The second thing I want to talk about is the distribution of our content. So our entire distribution machine is digital, so, but I include with that linear television which is now everything is broadcast digitally, analogue was switched off in 2012 and everything we do in an on demand way is also online so by definition, it’s digital. We in 2006 we were the first broadcaster anywhere in the world to launch a long form video on-demand service - 4od which was actually an early user of cloud technology and also open source coding which we've been big fans of. Started on the PC and then moved to tablet and mobile devices and games consoles to the extent now that 4od, so we have 19 different dedicated applications providing 4od in the UK. And we, that serves 7,000 hours of content online, it started predominantly with Catch Up and then added so that things that’ve been on within 30 days of linear transmission and then moved on to we've added a lot of archive, we now - as you can see - added native digital content, social dimensions and you will also now get live, online streaming of our broadcast channels. So the development of 4od I would say has been a bit like when you, you know, you start out and you get your first home, but then, you know, if you're lucky enough to have kids, your family expands and you add an extension and you turn the garage into dining room and you know, you end up with a different kind of place than you started out with. So what we're doing with 4od now is starting over. We’re building, building, rebuilding it completely from the ground up, and we're relaunching it next year, which we announced last week with a new service called All4 which effectively brings together our entire digital estate into one seamless and integrated place for the first time. And here I’ve got a slightly longer video which tells you that:

Video: [Since it’s invention, TV has constantly evolved and from it’s inception, Channel 4 has been a pioneer. From a single channel in the 80s, we’ve created strong, new channel brands delivering a wider breadth of programmes. “Bingo”. Channel 4 was also the first broadcaster in the world to allow audiences to routinely catch up on their favourite shows, whenever and wherever via a dedicated online service called 4od and as we head into an ever more converged world, we want to make sure it’s as easy as possible for people to get what they want, when they want it. That’s why we're launching a brand new destination, where everything we do comes together. We’re calling it All4. From streaming live channels, to catch up, from exclusive short form content, to online games, it’s all in one place, designed from the ground up. “It’s the mother ship” And with so much stuff in one place, we needed to design a new way for you to find your way around and so All4 is divided into three states: On Demand, Now and On Soon. At the center of All4 is Now, the space for everything that's important right now. Watch live streams of our channels, discover what’s most popular and see what’s causing a storm in social. Swipe left and you go back in time to On Demand. Catch up on the shows you've missed, binge on classic box-sets and watch new and exclusive online shorts. All for free. Swipe right and you go forward to On Soon. Find out what you shouldn't miss in the coming week. Get exclusive sneak peaks of brand new series and even watch premiers of returning favorites before everyone else. On Demand, Now, On Soon.. and this time line design runs throughout All4, wherever you are. Swipe left to go back in time, swipe right to go forward. Driving this experience is our growing database and with 11 million registered viewers, we have an unprecedented understanding of what our users want. And that’s why at All4 there is My4, a personalised area bespoke to you. Here you can check out your favorites, get more of what you already like and be surprised with recommendations for shows you didn't know you'd like. When we first launched 4od, linear television was predicted to wither but today 90% of all TV is still watched live. And in fact, total viewing has increased. In such a world, we believe our channel brands are as important as ever, a guiding light through hundreds of potential viewing decisions. “That Was Good, I Like That” All4 has been designed with this in mind, starting with a brand new identity that uses color to bring together our famous channel brands and movement to reflect their distinct personalities. We believe this is the most advanced broadcaster response to changing technology and viewer behavior. One that ensures our content remains a valued part of viewer’s lives for years to come. “It’s amazing how it all comes together just to be this one beautiful thing” “That is the only way” “Welcome to Wonderland” “I’m in” All4 - where all the 4s come together.]

Ok, so that’s we’re exciting about that, it's launching in the spring of next year. Television as, you know, as you might expect, has always been very strong in the creative skills - you know, we’re in show business. But actually we are I would say pioneering in our sector the use, the use of data and science in broadcasting so we as was said on the video, we introduced a registration system on 4od three years ago, voluntary system although it’s now compulsory for achive, fill in your name, address, date of birth and gender, and we've been collecting over three years more than 10 thousand registrations every single day. We've built up this database now of eleven and a half thousand registered users, including I think an amazing 50% of all people aged 16-24 in the UK - so you can go out on the street, lunchtime and ask two 16-24 yrs olds, chances are one of them has registered with 4od and it’s been amazingly successful for us. So 60% of our viewing on 4od is now to registered viewers who are also logged in while they’re viewing, so there's an enormous amount of data that we’re collecting. And one of the things that we’re also doing is to work closely with academics, centers of excellence in the UK to help us in all of this. So just to, I’ll give you a couple of examples of that -so the collection of data is essentially allowing us to do three different things:

So firstly, as you’d expect, give people, give viewers a more personalised offering. So we personalise homepages now and we've got recommendations. I mean woopeedoo, that’s available on most internet sites but it’s a relatively new thing for the television industry and this has allowed us to continue growing 4od at an extremely healthy rate. And we've been doing quite a lot of work with the University College London on, with machine based learning software to help us with the accuracy of viewer recommendations. That’s a very good relationship we have with them.

Second is to offer better targeting to advertisers. So through, through the use of data and such a high number, such a high percentage of usage of 4od with people registered and logged in, we can now offer demographic ad packages to exactly match the demographic ad packages that are available on linear television via Barb. And this has meant that our digital revenues are growing at a very very significant rate, faster than linear. But the good news as well, as a very important development for us, is that the growth of digital revenue is not at the expense of our traditional linear revenues. It appears thus far that these things are coming from different pots. And on ad targeting there’s a, I can recommend to you a team at Nottingham University who we've been working with very closely to improve the efficiency of our ad targeting software.

And the third thing is that it helps us to learn more about our viewers. So we have a panel of about ten thousand of these eleven and a half million registered users who are real super fans. It’s a panel called Call4. We communicate with them regularly every week by email, showing them clips, talking to them about programme ideas, programme names, campaigns and we are just getting amazing immediate feedback and we have, because people like to be involved in television. They’re interested in it, we get very very high response rates to that.

And another interesting thing that were doing, just as another form of innovation -amazing to me that this works so well - we, with the panel, we effectively crowd source ratings predictions for programmes that haven't been on and you would think wow, you know, does that work? Amazing degree of accuracy - if you provide people with clips and some information about the show, the ability of a crowd of viewers to predict how many millions of viewers are going to watch that show is fantastically accurate.

We also, I mean obviously with data, transparency is a, is a big issue as it will be for anybody, and from right from the start of our engagement in this, we’ve taken what I believe and certainly it has, we've won awards for it and market leading approach. So we published a very clear and straightforward plain english viewer promise, explaining why we are asking people to register, why we’re collecting their data, what we're doing with it but also what people can do if they want effectively to come out of the system and have their data deleted. And this is just a longer film but this is one excerpt from a video that we, that we did, outlining our viewer promise:

Video: [At Channel 4 were in love with you! You lovely viewers! We’re so in love, we want to get know you even better. So if you sign up with Channel 4 on say 4od, we'll ask you for your name, email address and a few other details. When it comes to your details, we’ll make to you this promise: You control any personal information you give us. And if you ever want the details you've given us back, we’ll wipe them from our system. For more information about Channel 4’s viewer promise, go to]

Okay, so that’s engagement and now the final part I want to talk about is marketing. Essentially with our marketing effort we’re trying to do two things - relatively straightforward; We’re trying to get people to watch and purchase - so that’s watch, effectively, our programmes, our channels, our services, but also we’re always trying to do it in a way that enhances the reputation of the Channel 4 brand for being innovative, risk-taking and these other things that I said at the start.

Now not surprisingly perhaps, about the main tool that we've always had to do that is TV advertising. We’re pretty lucky in that respect because we've obviously got quite a lot of air time on which show our own TV ads but also I think relatively uniquely, the medium, or the sort of material from which is actually manufactured, is the same material through which our main marketing tool is manufactured. So, you know, I accept that our life in that respect is more straightforward than in other sectors. But you might be surprised to hear that we’ve always, it’s always been the case that our second most powerful tool has always been word of mouth. So people have always talked about television for our viewers, television is their third most time consuming activity in life, behind sleeping and working. So as you might expect, social is a complete gift for us. Obviously it allows us to get our messages out to our viewers but also gives the viewers a means to both share them, but also start their own conversations about TV programmes so, you know, what I would say is the equivalent of a digital cup of tea. But we can also, obviously with social, see the nature of the conversion - or a lot of it - and measure it which you can't do over an actual cup of tea. So you know, we’re very active in this area, I mean, some of the biggest fan pages on Facebook are for TV programmes, The Inbetweeners, has got almost five million ‘likes’ on Facebook, and we’re constantly pushing out information most recently about The Inbetweeners 2 Movie which I’m sure you've all seen and enjoyed, the most successful British movie this year. And you know, Twitter, the highest trending subject topics on Twitter most evenings are for TV programmes. So we completely believe in social - I could do a whole session on social, we are very active in it. And we have about, we have about 11.5% share of viewing across the entire population but we have about 30% share of social that where TV is being talked about.

In other parts of our marketing mix, we’re also lucky enough to benefit from an enormous amount of free press coverage because the press write about television programmes, although that’s obviously been diminishing because the readership of traditional newspapers has been falling. We also buy a substantial amount of adspace in other media - so press, radio, etc, posters, and we spend in the region of about 10 million quid a year on that. And it’s in that particular area I just want to talk a little bit more because that is an area where we are experiencing what I think is a genuine revolution. In fact I made a presentation to the board early this year about the next phase of our marketing strategy which was entitled ‘The Revolution is Telegenic’ - I'll explain that in a second - and in it, I said, amongst other things, that we would be moving our media buy now almost entirely digital so when I say digital I’m not exclusively online but digital, so including advertising, putting TV ads on other channels because I've said they’re all distributed digitally now, but also moving from traditional billboards to digital posters, moving from print into newspaper and magazine websites and also substantial investment in social.

So what exactly do I mean by ‘telegenic’?

Well obviously if we move our, most of our our marketing digital, that enables us to utilise the TV ad which we know is our most effective marketing tool. With posters, obviously slightly different because posters aren't audiovisual but actually digital posters now, you know, they have a kind of, they have a sort of telegenic quality to it, much more sympathetic to a lot of the marketing assets we have than a traditional poster. And indeed quite a high, enough of a proportion of posters now off road, you can actually show a moving image, so you go in the tube and you can see that. No audio, sadly, yet but you can get moving images on posters. But also, importantly, wherever we can deliver our TV ad via an online, connected device, this has quite profound changes for us for the potential of turning the watching of the ad into the purchasing of the product, so the watching of the programme. So for decades in television, our marketing has relied on the importance of the human memory, which is obviously a very profound tool, but, you know, it’s got a lot of stuff going into it. So we advertise programmes before transmission in the hope that people will think “oh I like the look of that, I might watch that when it comes up on the telly later next week or later that night” or that when they’re roaming around the EPG of an evening, they see that programme that they've seen advertised and they think “okay I'll watch that”. But now through digital, not only can we target the advertising better, but people can actually do something about the ad there and then, so the things that we’re experimenting with are when you get delivered an ad, a TV ad on a connected device that will may enable you to immediately send an automated record instruction to your PVR or simply to assess a reminder that goes into your calendar that then pops up just before the show is about to start, or just simply to share the news of the programme on your social network. And it doesn't stop there either because when, in a world - we’re not there yet - but in a world where connected TVs will allow registered viewers to be registered and logged in when they're watching television, not just for watching 4od via a computer or a tablet or mobile, you can then, there'll be settings where you can automatically be watching a programme and that can automatically then be transmitted through to your social feed. And then, once you do all of that, we've got a connected relationship with the audience. We can then start to offer them rewards with exclusive content such as, you know, pre-transmission premiers of the new series of the programme that they've just watched, so I genuinely think the possibilities for us are endless. In the near term, what it’s allowed us to do - the move away from traditional, particularly posters and print, more into digital media, is that we’ve massively reduced our production costs and all of that has gone back into a bigger media buy, which because of our media strategy is pound-for-pound being spent in a more effective way anyway so it’s a fantastic virtuous circle for that, for us.

So, I mean, some of those things that I’ve spoken about we’re experimenting with now, some of them already exist, some of them are coming very soon, but that’s where we're headed and while we obviously haven't arrived at that promised land, we are very, very well on the road. So just in conclusion, I hope that that shows you that across all the activities of the company, digital is absolutely the heart of everything that we do, from the content that we make, the way we distribute it, the way we engage with our customers but also the way that we market it. And I will, if I may, just leave you with the latest big campaign that we’ve done for Stand Up To Cancer which is a telethon which starts next month. It’s amazing, we've already clocked up - amazing for us anyway - we’ve already clocked up two and a half million views on YouTube for this, this has been out less than two weeks, which is even more YouTube hits than we’ve ever had for everything - even that superhumans ad for the paralympics, so here you go:

Video: [Time to die cancer!]

Thank you, thanks for the opportunity to come and tell you all about Channel 4.