Channel 4 rides a streaming wave of success. Where has it come from?

Channel 4 recently announced their biggest ever month on streaming in March, with viewing up 40% YoY to 6.9 billion viewer minutes.  It’s great news for a quality broadcaster that has struggled recently…so what is it getting right?

The channel have cited ‘The Jury: Murder Trial’, ‘To Catch A Copper’ and ‘The Push: Murder on the Cliff’ as major successes and, whilst it may seem like they’re just dialling in on the genre du jour of true crime, C4 has always pushed boundaries, whilst ensuring great storytelling is at the heart of all their commissions.

The Jury was a powerful social experiment, designed to question whether trial by jury is appropriate and safe.  Having served on a jury in the past, I was acutely aware of the system’s shortcomings, but the show brought a largely secretive process to the mainstream.  The controversial conclusion and a cast of divisive characters (not to mention objections from the legal community on the programme’s commitment to accuracy) ensured this was a much talked about TV event and performed well on catch up in subsequent weeks.

To Catch a Copper’s publicity was largely based around the tagline ‘the real Line of Duty’, but went further than this.  The brave and unprecedented decision by Avon and Somerset Police to open up their Professional Standards department to public scrutiny was very Channel 4, and the twists and turns of each investigation reminded me of the amazing 24 Hours in Police Custody.  Understandably, some of the decisions provoked outrage on social media and contributed to a larger debate about policing standards in the UK.

The Push not only highlighted the shocking case of Fawziyah Javed’s murder, but also followed the trial, minute by minute.  Showing actual footage from court really brought this horrific story to life – not only in terms of the technical legal process, but the lived experience of the victim’s family.  We often think of trials as the cathartic finale of a case, but this brilliant documentary proved it is often a painful experience which has to be endured.

Although we’ve seen some big hits in the true crime genre of late, Channel 4 has proved that it doesn’t have to be sensationalist and opportunistic.  It can also be empathetic and thought provoking, and it’s a strategy that’s clearly working for them.

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