Auds help U.K. network choose lineup

Channel 4 spinoff 4seven airs reruns based on social media buzz

LONDON — At first glance, 4seven looks like another so-called catch-up channel — it takes the most popular shows that have aired the previous week on Channel 4 and replays them. Such services have become commonplace in homes with digital TV.

The point of departure for 4seven is that the shows featured are selected partly by buzz created on social media platforms and other arenas that capture audience feedback, according to Channel 4 CEO David Abraham. Each program break on 4seven showcases at least one comment about that show from a viewer, displayed onscreen in a style similar to that of a Tweet or a text message.

The mastermind behind the initiative is Channel 4’s head of marketing, Dan Brooke, says that 4seven is partly a response to auds telling the broadcaster they often missed shows they wished they’d caught up with.

“We have a lot of light viewers,” Brooke says. “They told us that the amount of noise out there on TV and on the Internet means they often end up missing the best (shows). ‘Repeats’ used to be a dirty word. But I think people now regard repeats as more of a service.”

This is especially the case on Channel 4 since the network didn’t renew “Big Brother,” leaving plenty of hours to be programmed. “Since ‘Big Brother’ ended, we have probably commissioned more new U.K. shows than any of our rivals,” Brooke says.

Not every popular Channel 4 series will end up on 4seven. Rights issues prevent the web’s portfolio of U.S. imports from getting a slot on the upstart channel; post 9/11 thriller “Homeland” created buzz when the skein bowed earlier this year, but when the second season arrives, it’s doubtful the show will appear on 4seven.

Even so, Brooke expects 4seven to be in profit within two years and to significantly boost advertising income; while Channel 4 itself is at best flatlining with a year-to-year audience share of around 6.8%, the broadcaster’s portfolio share (including sister webs E4, More4 and Film4) jumps to 11.6.

“By adding decimals points to our portfolio share, 4seven can become commercially valuable to us,” Brooke says.

Other U.K. webs are likely keeping a close eye on how 4seven pans out in what is the digital equivalent of the Wild West.

“4seven is an interesting experiment,” reckons IHS Screen Digest’s TV analyst Anna Stuart. “As a channel proposition, it is both old and new. It is old-fashioned because it is (programmed with a linear schedule), but it has got a modern multiplatform edge to it.”