FilmFour Goes Free-to-Air
More than two-thirds of households in the UK have access to digital television. The relaunched channel should be available in 18 million homes by the end of the year, compared with just 300,000 current subscribers paying up to £7 a month to receive the service.
FilmFour Weekly, which offered a cinema-style schedule by playing the same three films at the same time each night across the week, is to close.
Andy Duncan, Channel 4 chief executive, said: “Channel 4 has a pedigree in film that is second to none among British broadcasters. We’ve not only showcased the best films on Channel 4 and FilmFour, we’ve actually funded and produced many of them as well. E4 has shown the ratings gains that can be made by going free to air and I’m convinced that a highly distinct and desirable brand like FilmFour can also make an impact on a wider audience.”
FilmFour, launched in 1998 as a paid-for service, but from July, will screen six films a day, starting at 3pm and coming off air at 3am. Films will typically start every two hours and the aim is to offer a broader range of films than any other UK film channel, with classic films earlier in the day giving way to modern Hollywood output, followed by the best of US and UK independent cinema in peak hours and foreign language and cult cinema late at night.
Alongside the new free to air film channel, Channel 4 is also planning to offer a FilmFour-branded video-on- demand subscription service on broadband, mobile and cable media services. These should begin later in the year.
Duncan added: “This change will significantly extend our presence in multi-channel homes in advance of digital switchover. It will also strengthen our public service contribution by offering regular showcases for British and European movies, including films financed by Channel 4 itself through its £10 million annual production fund.”
FilmFour is understood to have started making a modest profit, it was likely to be unsustainable in the long term because of its limited subscriber base. A switch to the Freeview platform suggests Channel 4 hopes to be able to make more money from advertising than it used to from subscriptions, though it's not clear if advertising will be allowed to interrupt films.