Let’s say you work at Channel 4 and David Abraham walks up to you with a proposal.
He wants you to be scheduler on Channel 4Seven - the new channel that repeats programmes which have generated most social media buzz.
What's your immediate reaction?
a) You're on easy street! This channel schedules itself! Simply look at which shows get most tweets. Whack them on in peak time. Go to lunch.
b) Nightmare - run for the hills!
I think it’s a surprisingly tough job. Let’s examine some of the dilemmas you could face.
Start with an easy one. What do you schedule? If you remain true to your channel proposition you’d only air the most-tweeted shows at peak time. On Channel 4 these are brands like Embarrassing Bodies or Proud & Prejudiced. They generate five times as many tweets as Homeland and New Girl.
Proud & Prejudiced is a brilliant show that arguably deserves a prominent slot. But would you consistently put it on in peaktime instead of Homeland, when the latter is the sort of ABC1 catnip that advertisers crave at 9pm?
What’s more, programmes that generate buzz are those that swear, get their kit off and expound appalling opinions. All very well, but what do you show in the pre-watershed peak?
Then there are programmes that generate massive impact on their first showing but don’t repeat well. Ever tried watching Million Pound Drop the day after? When it’s live and interactive it’s compelling - but when it’s not, well… meh.
And what if mischievous viewers decide to game the system? Imagine a Twitter campaign where users collude to ensure an anodyne show like Countdown will trend, just so you have to show it on Channel 4Seven. Would you?
And what if Channel 4 launched a sitcom which fails? It’s trending on Twitter with people tipping metaphorical buckets of ordure all over it. It’s damaging the Channel 4 brand and should be quietly moved to a ‘Dignitas slot’ in the small hours. But does its genuine buzz mean it gets a prime slot on Channel 4Seven?
Finally, how do you apply the art of scheduling to this channel? A clever scheduler will plan shows that build viewing through the evening. They will flow audiences seamlessly from show to show, reflecting how audiences feel at different times of day or week. But this channel risks showing an incongruous hotchpotch of content that ignores scheduling orthodoxy and sacrifices audience inheritance between programmes.
Channel 4Seven is definitely an innovative idea. Harnessing social media to help viewers discover content is ingenious. It’s a clever half-way house, bridging between linear viewing and true VOD on your television. And it will harness the power of Herd Thinking to bring smart shows like Proud and Prejudice the audience they richly deserve.
But what do you think? Is its modus operandi sustainable? Or will the scheduler have to make daily compromises to the channel proposition?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
John McDonald, Planning Director