Media strategy - A launch pad for C4 ambitions

The giant step for mankind taken by the gullible Space Cadets crew may have got them no further than an airfield on the outskirts of Ipswich, but broadcaster Channel 4 hopes the show will help its funding of broadband content get off the launch pad.

Along with other TV companies, C4 has spotted a golden opportunity to start cashing in commercially from the massive increase in broadband take up, as it explores new worlds, away from the TV screen.

While it has already spent big on its online activities, in areas such as music and content on the back of shows like Big Brother, Grand Designs and Hollyoaks, 2006 looks set to see the scale of its investment online - and indeed in mobile - go into overdrive.

Yet like other broadcasters, C4 has yet to settle on the commercial formula to help drive its strategy.

The biggest hint of things to come could be the exclusive advertising deal C4 has signed with the COI and its digital media agency i-Level, to support its live streaming of the action from space/Suffolk.

The RAF, which is seeking recruits with the "right stuff," and hopefully a few more brain cells than your average reality show contestant, has a 20-second video, which rolls out before the streaming content begins.

C4 is effectively using the deal to pilot the possibility of an advertising funded model for its broadband content.

Previously, to get online content for shows such as Big Brother, viewers have had to pay via subscription, as they have done for mobile content from C4 and other broadcasters, like ITV, which is also very active in this space.

If broadcasters, however, can make the advertiser funded model work online - and maybe on mobile too - not only will viewers get access to content without having to pay, but it potentially opens the door to an exciting new area for advertisers, as yet hardly touched.

The speed of the latest broadband services is now an ideal vehicle for creativity, in a space like online which has seen precious little of it to date.

C4 clearly regards online and mobile as much sexier areas than interactive TV. Now it has to decide how to make the most of opportunities provided by the fast pace of technology.

Reports earlier in the year suggested Andy Duncan's game plan was to replicate C4's content in online simulcasts.

That now seems on the back burner, with issues over rights and how to monetize advertising content, among the barriers.

The bigger strategic decision is whether C4 goes forward along an advertiser funded route, or one backed by subscription. The implications for agencies and clients could be significant.

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