The past few weeks have already engendered a huge amount of head-scratching and hand-wringing over what we expect from a public service broadcaster in this country. Over and above informing and entertaining us, it transpires that we hold its moral and ethical values in high regard as well. As a nation, we look to TV to be both our voice and our guide. So, with lovely old Auntie transformed into a somewhat pervy Uncle, it’s quite nice to channel surf over to Channel 4 and wish them a very happy 30th birthday.
Of course Channel 4 isn’t without its controversies either but, from Sri Lanka’s killing fields to the weddings of Britain’s gypsies, they are controversies they deliberately courted. Despite being largely self-funded, Channel 4 operates under a public remit to demonstrate innovation, experimentation and creativity in both the form and content of their programming. It’s a remit they have not only delivered on, but taken as a green card to define the contemporary television experience.
In terms of programming, Channel 4’s spirit of innovation and creativity brought many firsts to our screens. Firsts that span from reality tv, live autopsies and “masturbate-a-thons” to U.S hit shows like Friends, The Osbournes and, more recently, Homeland. Asking around the Digit studio, it was clear that Channel 4 programming has had a defining impact on people of all ages over the years. Digit’s Sharon recalled the teenage angst of U.S import My so-called Life (oh Clare Danes, how far you’ve come!), while Tom says there’s few who weren’t shocked by Hollyoaks’ Luke getting sexually assaulted in the showers by his football team. My personal highlights of Channel 4 consist of Alexa and Alexis bringing hipsterdom to the masses on Popworld, and spending most of 2001 speaking like Ali G (ayyyyy me Julie).
It’s Channel 4’s total commitment to pushing the boundaries of tv formats, however, that really set them apart on both a national and even a global scale. Time and time again, C4 have displayed a deep understanding of how people are consuming media and built that into their functionality. They were the first terrestrial channel to offer “on demand” viewing with 4od, and set a benchmark for dual screening with the real-time, interactive Million Pound Drop app. Even their identity system, which includes stunning live-action idents, reflects their commitment to bold, cutting-edge content. Ultimately, Channel 4 treats technology as an integral part of modern life, not merely a “cool thing” that can be used to jazz up programming. A lesson many brands would do well to acknowledge.
So here’s wishing Happy Birthday to a very cool 30 year old, who is still very much “down wiv da kidz” and not looking a day over 21.