4iP : “We are not charity”

Tom Loosemore shows the map to 4iP strategy
Tom Loosemore shows the map to 4iP strategy

Channel 4 has been investing in digital platforms and products, not to transfer television onto the web, but to create new products that engage audiences online, through the 4iP program. Their new media Commissioners came to Birmingham to share what they’re doing and what are their plans for the future. And that involves other people’s ideas. Your ideas.

Mobile apps, gaming, native online content, social media, networks, collaboration: these are not the thoughts you’d expect from a TV channel. But Channel 4 has a different approach. They created the 4 Innovation for Public (4iP) fund, to deliver publicly valuable content and services on digital media platforms with significant impact and in sustainable ways. And sustainability is a huge issue for them. “We are not charity”, said Tom Loosemore, head of 4iP, but they are willing to invest part of their 20 million pounds budget to “support bigger, bolder projects”.

They are already supporting a few in the West Midlands, like Help me Investigate, Yoosk, Talk About Local, the place they described as the “hottest spot to be in the country” regarding new media. If you want to know how to propose a project to 4iP, just keep on reading. Many of the minds that got together this Tuesday at the Austin Court, left feverishly plotting their proposals.

Embarrassing Bodies and the Battlefront

First let’s take a look at they’ve been doing so far. Louise Brown, head of Cross Platform commissioning, explained that digital platforms “allow to increase the depth of impact with audiences”. Their TV show Embarrassing Bodies was divided into clips for screening on the computer or cell phones, to make all of the medical information more useful and accessible. Interaction is also a big deal for them. In their online drama “Hollyoaks”, the mainly teen audience had a chance to interact with the actors. Brown said that younger audiences “tend to expect and demand more”, and creating engagement is a huge part of that relationship.

“We want to focus on what the audience needs” and their needs for 2010 revolve around health, comedy and news, the three top goals they want to tackle next year. “We’re looking to hear from designers, production companies”, anyone who can provide “more innovation”, and that is what Louise Brown expects to be funded by the 3 million budget of the Cross Platform.

Innovation is also a keyword for Matt Locke, who’s in charge of the Education projects at 4iP. He defined his work in three simple steps: get attention, keep attention and add value. “We try to reach teens in their streams” and they navigate on social networks like Facebook, Twitter or even YouTube. These networks filter the content for them, so Matt Locke defended that they have to “go out where the teens are”, to get their attention. After that, they must build a relationship, allowing them to express their views in comments, polls or other forms of participation. It’s that kind of engagement that adds value to the contents produced by them. He gave the example of “Battlefront”, a show about 20 young campaigners defending their cause with the help of online users. “Some of the campaigners had phenomenal responses”, and it showed that a lot has to be learned about how to combine video with online networks.

Networks are important, but gaming is one of the top priorities at the Education department. They even have a game about networking called “Smokescreen”, but their biggest success is the  “1066” flash game (related to the historical drama series with the same name) that averaged 250.000 plays per week, with users playing it for more than 20 minutes, in a total of 7 million players, most of them outside UK. According to Locke, they have been two years into this strategy, and the next item in their list is widgets, apps that sit within social networks, and more games. It’s all about the interaction, the relationships and debate.

Make some trouble

Tom Loosemore, head of 4iP, laid down the values of the company for us: “Doing it first; inspire changes in people’s lives; making trouble in public interest”. But if you want to approach them with an idea, your product must be sustainable. And that is not all, it has to be innovative, and since one of their key objectives is “to explore new business models”, all of the advertising supported projects are promptly sent to the bin. What you must consider is if your idea has “a center of gravity around participation and collaboration?”

He showed us some of the projects that stand for the company’s values: Mapumental, a project about commuting; AudioBoo, that was effectively used during the G20 protests in London, with people reporting from the frontlines using their iPhones; and MyBuilder, something he called as “consumer protection for the 21st century”. Tom Loosemore also enhanced another aspect to take into account:  “People’s media habits are fragmenting” and it’s harder to introduce people to great contents they don’t know about. “Discoverability” is the word, which is translated by helping users “bump into stuff they like” integrating Facebook and Twitter into the aggregated content of 4OD. “You can see what your friends are watching and talking about.”

For Tom Loosemore there’s an effective way to get a project running: build them quick and dirty and get them on the internet. If you want to submit your project you must remember that it has to be sustainable. “We are a business”, he emphasizes, but he is also looking forward for people willing to take risks. “It’s not about funding, but stimulating products” and if they can cause a stir, even better. They are looking for projects that fall under value number 3 (make some trouble) holding power to account, but they are also interested on Health and Wellbeing, Comedy and Arts.

But he warns that at the 4iP proposals website “people fail in the very first box: what do users need?”

Do you have the answer?

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