Leading article: The test of a public service

Share

Channel 4 has enjoyed a good year. The group's annual report yesterday showed a 4.9 per cent rise in pre-tax profits in 2005, driven largely by increased advertising and sponsorship revenues. We should welcome the fact that the channel is proving commercially successful, especially at a time when other publicly owned concerns seem to be haemorrhaging cash.

Yet we should not forget that the only true test of Channel 4 is the quality of its broadcasting output. Since its foundation in 1982, the channel has been bound by a public-service remit. Unlike for purely commercial broadcasters, ratings and revenues are not everything. In this respect, the verdict on Channel 4's year must be more mixed. The channel is still in danger of relying too much on reality TV shows such as the Big Brother franchise. And at times it has become dangerously preoccupied with appealing to mass-market tastes. The promotion of the Noel Edmonds hosted Deal or No Deal is a good example of this tendency. However, in fairness to Channel 4, it should be noted that the BBC is increasingly encroaching on to its traditional patch. The BBC, which itself announced bold new programming plans yesterday, now targets alternative audiences just as much as Channel 4 used to. And the tussle over the rights to broadcast The Simpsons has confirmed that both broadcasters are now in direct competition for the best American shows.

The broadcasting game has changed profoundly since the era when Channel 4 was founded. Britain no longer has a mainstream culture that fails to cater for alternative or minority tastes. We now have an all-pervasive popular culture and a much greater proliferation of outlets with the arrival of digital. The orientation of Channel 4 was bound to change in this new environment.

At its best, the fourth terrestrial channel still provides a platform for pioneering and quality programmes. The IT Crowd showed that it can hold its own on the comedy front. And the coverage of the Ashes test matches last summer was exemplary.

The siren call for full privatisation should be resisted. This would surely make a slide downmarket in the manner of ITV inevitable. Britain needs a healthy alternative public service broadcaster in the new multi-channel digital world, when audiences will be increasingly fragmented, ratings smaller, and advertising revenues for the old terrestrial broadcasters diminished. As Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, warned yesterday: "We may have defied gravity in 2005, but it would be naive to assume we can do so forever."

Such realism is appropriate. Channel 4 must prepare itself to compete in an unforgiving new broadcasting world.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
New BBC series Britain's Hardest Grafter seems to be tapping into the 'poverty porn' trend started by C4's Benefits Street  

'Benefits Street' meets 'The Hunger Games' is a new low for the BBC

Alice Jones
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor