Blueprint for channel 4 

2 September 2020


Evening Express masthead

From the (Aberdeen) Evening Express for 30 January 1980

IT will be nearly two years before any of us tune in to ITV 2, but a blueprint of what the new channel could be like has already been drawn up. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (ITV’s governing body) has made provisional proposals for the shape of Britain’s fourth TV channel.


The main difference in ITV 2 from the existing channels is that it will not produce any programmes of its own. It will either “order” the programmes it wants or buy them here or abroad. In other words it will be a publisher rather than a producer.

The IBA – determined that the fourth channel will have its own distinctive character – complementing the existing ITV rather than clashing with its programmes.

Fourth Channel recruitment advertisement

The IBA advertises for senior management positions in the new fourth channel in The Stage on 24 July 1980

If all the promises are kept, it will provide opportunities for new talents and appeal to wider interests.

As far as audiences are concerned, the IBA say that even if it becomes a channel “visited from time to time” rather than watched constantly, it has to stay in the public eye.

They are also determined that it won’t cater only for minority groups or create any form of “exclusiveness.”

They see ITV 2 as providing two-thirds of its programme output for audiences who want “something different,” with the remaining third intended to appeal to bigger audiences.

A possible pattern at the start of broadcasting in the autumn of 1982 might be between 15% and 35% of output from independent producers, between 25% and 40% coming from the major ITV contractors, 15% from ITN and the rest from abroad.

The money to run ITV 2 (initial forecasts range between £60 million and £80 million [£305m to £410m in 2020, allowing for inflation]) will come from subscriptions from all the ITV regions — Grampian TV for example might have to contribute something like £200,000 [£1.2m], with a major company like London Weekend forking out as much as £11 million [£56m].




Whatever programmes eventually appear on our screens in 1982 not all of Scotland will be able to see them anyway. The target at the moment is for 30 main stations by November, 1982, to bring the channel to viewers as far north as Elgin.

After that it will spread north gradually as a further 18 main stations are completed by 1984.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: The headline says Channel 4, but the article says ITV 2. Elsewhere, the newly authorised channel was being called “the Fourth Television Service” and similar names. It would be late December 1980, after the first meeting of the company’s board, that “Channel 4” would be chosen as the official name.

As for the promises made being kept, yes, for the first 10 years they were. The channel’s funding formula was simple: the IBA assessed how much money Channel 4 needed to run and split that between the ITV companies, with bigger companies paying more. In return, the ITV companies got to sell Channel 4’s advertising space, if they could, and keep any profits made. This kept the channel’s funding fairly stable and allowed it to commission a number of programmes that no other broadcaster in the UK – not even the BBC – would make or show.



Alas, the formula was changed when the Independent Television system was effectively privatised in the 1990s. It was replaced by an arrangement where C4 sold its own advertising, but the ITV companies were to chip in if profits from that fell below the amount C4 needed. In return, if C4 made more money than it needed, that surplus was to be distributed to the ITV companies. At the time this was agreed, it seemed like a good set-up. But when it kicked in, Channel 4 had started broadening its output to include in prime time a lot of shows – chiefly American – that appealed to exactly the people advertisers wanted to reach, just at the time ITV programming output was reeling from the unwonted changes. They flooded into the fourth channel, which promptly had to start paying painfully large amounts to ITV, destabilising the entire system.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Dermott Donnelly 5 September 2020 at 6:19 pm

Russ. In my opinion that was the worst decision which could have been made for C4. The rot was gradual, but it was unstoppable. Over the decades from 1993 to the present day, C4 became more commercial and less risk taker until we have got to the point nowadays where its schedule is largely posh homes for posh people and cheapo docs about police, bouncers in parochial towns and “in yer face” docs about women who choose to shave their v******s rather than going “Bush”. For me, there is much more challenging fare on Channel 5 these days.

Andy Wills 4 October 2020 at 10:33 pm

The article above states that not all of Scotland would receive Ch4 on the channels opening night in 1982. As per the norm, England seems to cease at Bristol. I remember the first night of Ch4 in the old Westward/TSW region was on its first birthday November 1983

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