A report from BBC Two’s financial series The Money Programme provides a great insight into the launch of Channel 4. It also provides a few nuggets for Pres fans.
The report was shown on 31st October 1982, two days before the channel went on the air. It highlights the difficulties the channel would face attracting sufficient advertising revenue.
While ITV sold Channel 4’s advertising for its first 10 years and paid a subscription to finance the channel, there were concerns this would be a drain on ITV and lead to pressure on Channel 4 to provide a more commercial schedule.
As it was, after a torrid few months things settled down. The channel gradually won a respectable audience share with Countdown, Brookside and American imports supporting a great range of serious, innovative and specialist output.
But a few nuggets.
First there are snippets of the pre-launch announcement and trails played during trade tests.
Observant people will notice that at this point the ETP-1 test card at Channel 4’s Charlotte Street headquarters didn’t have twin blue lines above and below the ‘IBA:CH4’ text. These later indicated whether the card was coming from Channel 4 itself or the IBA regional control room.
Chief executive Jeremy Isaacs is interviewed in Channel 4’s transmission control room – itself an area of initial worry.
The computerised system used to help the transmission controller and minimise staffing was somewhat problematic to begin with – automation, of course, was to prove a problem for many Pres departments down the years.
And lastly note references within the package to Channel 4 as part of the ITV system and to the Channel 3 service as ITV 1.
Channel 4 itself was always determined not to be seen as ITV 2.
However the IBA was keen to talk of all of its TV licences as “ITV” – it also spoke of TV-am as part of ITV.
At this time ITV was the respectable name for commercial television – not merely the collective name for the regional franchisees.
Channel 4 – supported by them and under the control of the IBA – was part of the ITV family in this sense.
ITV only started to become a brand in the sense we understand it now in 1989 when it launched its first proper corporate identity.
All in all the piece is fun for Pres fans and historians. And a reminder to those too young to remember that Channel 4 was not always a commercial broadcaster – it was a public service broadcaster supported by commercials and underwritten by ITV.
PICTURED: Channel 4 control room (1982), featured in an edition of The Money Programme. COPYRIGHT: BBC.