Taking Risks for a Great Story: Talking Content at Channel 4’s Annual Plannertarium

Katy Garner-Foy, Media Manager, gives her take on the Channel 4 Plannertarium.

Last week Channel 4 ran their annual Plannertarium, a one day (and night) conference intended to open up the world of the broadcaster to the media planning community. Through a series of panel sessions with a selection of their top decision makers, C4 showcased their approach to content creation and explored how we might best utilise their platforms, talent, insight and creative impetus to help advertisers tell their brand stories.


C4 are undoubtedly in the storytelling business, but what makes a truly great story for them?

“It’s not hard to pick up a camera, what’s difficult is executing a great and original idea. For brands this is incredibly important. In a sea of content, the original idea is what makes it stand out. And if you’re not out of your comfort zone, you’re probably not trying hard enough.” [David Abraham, Channel 4 Chief Executive]

Striving to identify content ideas that are deemed both great and original is the day job for Liam Humphreys, C4’s Head of Factual Entertainment. Responsible for socially provocative commissions such as Benefit Street, The Undateables, The Pedophile Hunter and upcoming Sex in Class, pushing boundaries is certainly something C4 are keen not to shy away from. Although Humphreys was quick to highlight that controversy or even social buzz for it’s own sake is not the aim (even if he admitted the latter may be used as a secondary measure of success, beyond ratings).


He argues that the real goal is to tackle interesting and compelling social issues with an authenticity that makes them relatable to a mass audience. With this in mind, content has to pass a four point checklist; Has it already been done? Does it have mass appeal? Does it cover something truly socially compelling? Is it entertaining?

What might this mean for advertisers?

C4 suggested that their content strategy could also be useful for advertisers looking to break the mould and try something new beyond the traditional 30″ spot.

When it comes to working with brands, Jonathan Lewis, C4’s Head of Digital and Partnership Innovation, was keen to reinforce that “it’s important for any brand to know what it’s about in a cultural and social context and to be true to this in the content they produce. Making it clear what a brand stands for through content is just as important to C4 as it is to advertisers”.

Easily said, but examples they showcased throughout the day helped to substantiate their claim. Waitrose Weekend Kitchen, Lloyds Because Your Home Matters and more recent Guy Martin’s Passions for Life in partnership with Alfa Romeo (to name just a few) were selected to demonstrate how they are able to seamlessly ‘editorialise’ brand content across the C4 portfolio, as well as extend to advertiser owned platforms.

Their current focus for ad-funded opportunities is on short form content, namely their recently launched Shorts which already makes up almost 6% of their on demand viewing. Plus, with over 11.5m registered 4oD users they’re able to dynamically target, personalise and measure the audience response more efficiently. They stress that short-form content provides an opportunity for them as a broadcaster (as well as in partnership with brands) to test and iterate quickly with a relatively small outlay compared to long form projects.

Where do agencies fit in?

Particularly from an ad-funded perspective, it’s obvious that C4 are looking for our help.

We know that in the right circumstances, this kind of content can lend an authenticity and native appeal that standard advertising often falls short of. And yet, a risky editorial led approach is often the antithesis of what advertisers have in mind.

To push the boundaries further, broadcasters and publishers need more advertisers to get on board with this new approach to content creation and they’re looking to us to be the matchmaker. As more opportunities for ad-funded editorial integration arise, our role is naturally poised to evolve beyond the traditional media agency remit.

“We’re already experts in exit planning and consulting on metrics for success. However, in this context, we’re also in a unique position to help shape the content strategy itself based on our in-depth client knowledge and impartial industry stance.” [Ruth Cartwright, Broadcast Director, Maxus]

Ultimately, as mutual acquaintances of both parties, agencies are in prime position to facilitate conversations about what’s right for everyone and help to shape the story along the way. We might even look to push them out of their comfort zone when we’re confident there’s a good match on the cards!

C4 do recognise that it takes an element of bravery and a leap of confidence from all parties to bring new and innovative content to fruition. However, instead of deeming these ideas as dangerous, they prefer to think of this approach as both exciting and rewarding. And it seems from the ratings to some of their more successful commissions that a growing audience would agree.

It’s refreshing trying new things because you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen” [Liam Humphreys]

Whether or not you agree with their self-enforced ‘Born Risky’ strategy or decide to take on their challenge, it’s hard not to be infected by their enthusiasm! At the very least, it’ll be exciting to see what risk they decide to take next!



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