Channel 4 audience dips below 10% 

2 January 2004

Media Guardian piece on C4

This news may be two days old but I only spotted it this morning – now why isn’t this surprising when Channel 4 is essentially showing the same types of programming as other channels? When Channel 4 first started it managed to deftly combine a mix of the popular (eg. Brookside, Countdown, Treasure Hunt) with the downright obscure, but by the early 1990s anything which was regarded as being ‘too intellectual’ was starting to be shown the door. Oops.

The rot was complete when Channel 4 was cut free from the purse strings of ITV because it then had to completely fend for itself and therefore succumb to the inevitable ‘commercial pressures’ and ‘market forces’, but even so the channel could (and should) have done much better even if Channel Five in particular has recently been nibbling away at the C4 audience.

In one sense I’m not worried by a relative ‘lack of audience’ – Channel 4 should innovate as opposed to exclusively chase mass audiences – but controller Mark Thompson hasn’t so far done enough to convince me that the channel is in a pair of safe hands. Pairing The Simpsons with an overworked Hollyoaks five nights a week will probably end up further damaging the audience figures (and reputation) for both given time, with precious little distinction left in the general character of the rest of the schedule to make up for this.

Combine this general malaise with Graham Norton’s defection plus the declining appeal of the channel’s existing big audience pullers (such as Big Brother) and the conclusion is that Channel 4 could easily find itself in big (ITV1 style) trouble unless it can magically conjure up something else with more lasting appeal than last year’s dismal Derren Brown Russian Roulette stunt (something similar was done with far less hype years ago on the Paul Daniels Magic Show of all things). And this year’s presentation changes for the channel will be interesting to say the least…

Happy New Year (but maybe not for Channel 4)!

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Liverpool, Monday 17 January 2022