24/7 meets 4Seven

Whenever, whatever

A new channel is born! 4Seven.  Or perhaps 4/7.  Anyway, it’s Channel 4’s new digital channel.  It’s a sort of repeat channel, showing programmes that have been generating chatter among viewers.  So, if you missed, say, Embarrassing Bodies  from Tuesday, you can watch it again here.  The people there will judge which programmes to show, based on social media buzz, commentators’ recommendations and requests from viewers.

You can see where the thinking came from – using television as a catch-up service option, rather than pushing online, or 4OD.   Television is the best place to show programmes you are proud of.  And it’s a lifeline for anyone who missed a favourite episode, and wasn’t in for the +1 channel.  And I like that it’s aimed at people who don’t routinely record programmes via Tivo, a PVR or Sky Plus.  And if a programme gets cancelled because of a schedule overrun.  Or you know

But I’m not convinced.  Not because it might not be useful, occasionally, but because it damages the brand, and eats away at audience members’ love of television.

One of the most powerful advantages that terrestrial channels have is a sense of scarcity for their programmes.  This programme will be shown at 8pm on Thursday, say.   It’s not quite then or never, because catch-up services are available, but you’ll have to make a tiny effort.  The sense with most satellite channels, from Dave to Discovery to the film channels, is that anything they show will be shown loads of times. All sense of urgency is lost.

We value things that are scarce.   The single crisp that someone gives you from their packet. Exotic stones or metal.  That attractive person you spot fleetingly on the tube.


By spending decent amounts on a programme, and showcasing them in a particular environment, at a particular time, it makes them feel special.   Liveness matters too, if audiences members sense that they are taking part in a communal, live experience.  Even a recorded programme feels live if audience members watch it at the same time, and know that they can talk about it later (or while it’s on) with their friends.

It’s what sets the terrestrial channels apart.  And the sports channels (and we remember the premium they charge).  It’s why many new programmes on Sky Atlantic are getting less than 10% of their potential audience.  There’s no sense of occasion, fellow feeling, or scarcity.

Yes, convenience is good, but ..

Remember when that dread phrase ‘Martini Media’ surfaced.  A horrible throw-back to the peculiar faded glam of the 1970s or 80s.   Television you could watch ‘any-time, anywhere, any-place’.   Just like a Martini Rosso.  It sounds great doesn’t it.  But it reminds us that most of us only ever drink Martini Rosso when we are getting drunk, at the weekend or on holiday, in an overly shiny bar, with people we don’t really like.  Or as a joke. A Martini is one of the most time, place, and occasion specific drinks imaginable.  Unlike Nesquik, say.


There’s a garage on the Seven Sister’s Road with a slogan on its canopy, ‘whenever, whatever’.  You can see what they were trying to say about their commitment to service. But it just comes across as an insouciant lack of respect.  Channel 4 may gain a few extra viewers – a vanishingly small number in the big scheme of things – at the cost of spreading the message that the channel will wait until you’re ready.

No sweat.

As and when.

No problem.

Up to you.

If you like.


(Oh, you want an alternative to this?  OK, devote a specific slot on More 4 to programmes that really deserve a second outing because of a clamour.  Call it the Sunday Evening Programme Showcase, and preview it with someone saying why it’s the best thing Channel 4 has shown this week, talking about the buzz, and why you’d be crazy to miss it)


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