Channel 4 Axes Linear Channels In Big Streaming Shift

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Major changes are coming to Channel 4, as the channel is set to close some of its linear channels – in favour of moving to a streaming-based future.

This transition, announced by the channel today, is a response to evolving viewer habits and the rising dominance of digital media.

Channel 4’s new ‘Fast Forward’ plan involves commissioning TV shows that are more suitable for the streaming audience, along with improvements to the Channel 4 app.

Furthermore, it plans to launch additional free, ad-supported streaming-only channels, and try to tempt more people into signing up for Channel4+, its ad-free service (see more details below).

Channel 4 app on TV

However, adding to the notable changes under Channel 4’s plan is the challenging decision to reduce the workforce, with significant job cuts being a part of this strategic transformation.

From All4 To Channel 4

Channel 4’s streaming app started its life as 4oD, then changed to All4, and in 2023, the name was changed to simply Channel 4 – perhaps signalling a future where the streaming app and the linear channels are one and the same.

But Channel 4’s journey into the digital realm hasn’t always been smooth.

All4 Screenshot
All4

Ofcom’s recent consultation revealed significant viewer dissatisfaction with Channel 4’s streaming service, criticizing its usability and persistent glitches.

Younger audiences, in particular, found the platform’s interface and advertising approach increasingly outdated, indicating a disconnect between Channel 4’s digital offerings and audience expectations.

Furthermore, the broadcaster’s streaming app was notably absent from major platforms like Freesat and Sky Q until 2023. This delay in availability potentially hindered Channel 4’s reach and appeal in the competitive streaming market.

But with viewers moving increasingly towards streaming, and with Freeview and Freesat also planning their streaming future with the upcoming Freely service, Channel 4 is certainly planning for a streaming-focused future.

Channel 4’s Streaming Future

Today, Channel 4 published its “Fast Forward” strategy, which represents a pivotal shift in the broadcaster’s direction, focusing on adapting to the rapidly changing digital media landscape.

Channel 4 company logo
Photo: Deposit Photos / TKKurikawa

As part of the plan, Channel 4 is moving towards a digital-first commissioning strategy.

This involves a significant shift in investment towards content genres that have been shown to drive streaming growth, such as drama, high-end documentaries, comedy, and reality shows.

This content strategy aims to cater to the preferences of younger viewers, who are increasingly consuming content on digital platforms like YouTube and other streaming services.

YouTube on phone and big screen
Photo: Deposit Photos

In light of that, the broadcaster plans to change the organization of its commissioning team. This restructuring is intended to simplify processes for content suppliers and focus more sharply on content that drives streaming growth.

Channel 4 is also considering owning more of the shows it airs. This would give it more control and potentially make more money from these shows.

Bringing More Paid Subscribers to Channel4+

The channel is also now focusing on growing Channel 4+, the optional ad-free tier of the Channel 4 streaming app, planning to double its users by 2030.

Channel 4 plus mockup

Channel 4+ is the channel’s optional advert-free streaming tier, which currently costs £3.99/month or £39.99/year.

In their new strategy, Channel 4 wants to attract more people to this service – and apparently, this has already started.

Recently, Channel 4 has introduced a new feature called ‘Early Access’ on its paid tier, Channel 4+.

This allows subscribers to watch certain shows before they are broadcast on Channel 4’s traditional linear channels and the free streaming tier. For example, subscribers could watch Series 2 of Big Boys before it aired on regular TV.

Big Boys series 2
Big Boys S2 (Photo: Channel 4)

The aim is to add more value to the Channel 4+ subscription, making it more than just an ad-free service (similar to how ITVX’s Premium Tier removes the adverts, but also adds the content libraries of BritBox and Studio Canal).

Shutting Down Linear Channels

As part of Channel 4’s new “Fast Forward” strategy, they also announced plans to shut down some of their linear (traditional broadcast) channels to save costs and focus more on streaming content.

The first channels set to be shut down in 2024 are the Box music channels – including 4MUSIC, The Box, Kiss, Magic and Kerrang.

4Music channel logo

These channels, known for broadcasting music videos and related content, have been a part of Channel 4’s offering but are now seen as less relevant in the streaming and digital era, when music is mostly consumed on-demand.

And that’s not the end – Channel 4 says that more linear channels will be closed “at the right time”.

In addition to shutting down linear channels, Channel 4’s strategy includes leveraging new FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV) channels.

These are digital channels available through streaming services. They offer a variety of content without the need for a subscription and are funded by advertising.

This move aligns with the shift towards digital and streaming platforms, providing viewers with more accessible content online. 

Operational Cost Reductions and Job Losses

Channel 4’s move towards a digital-first approach includes significant operational cost reductions.

Part of this involves reducing its workforce, with the plan proposing an 18% reduction in headcount.

This translates to around 200 job losses and the closure of approximately 40 unfilled roles, primarily affecting legacy operations.

While difficult, this step is seen as essential for Channel 4 to streamline its operations and invest more efficiently in digital priorities, marking a significant shift in its business model and operational approach.

The Streaming Future of TV

Channel 4’s shift from linear TV to streaming marks a significant – but expected – turn in the broadcasting industry.

Channel 4 streaming service on laptop

This move aligns with global trends, where streaming is increasingly becoming the dominant mode of content consumption – and the BBC is also heading into a streaming-focused future and the eventual closure of linear broadcast channels.

The advantages of this transition include the ability to reach a younger, more digitally savvy audience and to offer more personalized and varied content.

However, it poses challenges, notably the risk of alienating traditional viewers and those without adequate broadband access – which is still a problem in many rural areas of the UK.

As streaming becomes more prevalent, there’s a growing concern that people in areas with poor internet connectivity might miss out on essential content.

While this shift signifies progress and adaptation to new technologies, it also highlights the need for a balanced approach that considers the diverse needs and circumstances of all viewers.

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