Absolute Zero: Channel 4’s Sacha Khari outlines the strategy behind 4.0

by | May 5, 2023 | Feature

Last week, UK producer’s association PACT held a seminar for its members called Beyond The Box. Designed to help film and television creators make the most of opportunities in the multiplatform world, it featured speakers from leading digital first companies including Little Dot Studio, Jungle Creations, Wall of Entertainment and Cowshed Collective. One well-attended session saw Rare TV creative director Rory Wheeler quiz Channel 4 head of digital commissioning Sacha Khari.

 After lengthy stints at Bauer Media and LADbible Group, Khari joined UK broadcaster C4 in June 2021. At C4, his focus has been to create a digital content strategy that connects to young audiences more meaningfully, whilst bringing trusted Channel 4 and PSB values to that audience. One  major initiative to date has been the launch of digital first platform Channel 4.0.

Launched in October 2022, the goal of the platform is to become home to fresh new social formats and returners, all rooted in youth culture. The content has a core focus of reaching, engaging and entertaining 13-24 year-olds.

At launch, Khari said: “Channel 4.0 marks a new era for Channel 4. Not only will it be a place where established stars come to spread joy, genius and a bit of chaos, we’ll be scouting for the next generation of talent. We want to collaborate, elevate and enrich the great content already happening in this space, giving creators funding and another platform to authentically showcase their brilliance.”

Available across YouTube and other social platforms, the first wave of 4.0 content featured established creators including Chunkz, Nella Rose, Alhan Gençay, Spuddz, Mist and Dreya Mac. In a bid to ensure authenticity among target audience, Channel 4 also partnered with Big Smoke Corporation, a multi-faceted creative collective, whose founder and CEO is multi award winning artist, Joseph Adenuga aka Skepta.

Among talent-led launch titles were Secret Sauce Series 2 (Acme Films/Wall of Productions), Nella Rose’s Flight Mode (Goat Films), Mist’Driven (Crash Productions), It’s Alright to be White (Flying Shoe Films and Ultra Haze) and Box Fresh (Hoot).

Six months after launch, Channel 4.0 has hit 25 million views and attracted 104k subscribers, with 13- 24s accounting for 82% of total views. 17 series have been commissioned so far, with over half produced by independent producers who are new to Channel 4, with over 80% of the onscreen talent brand new to Channel 4.

Below are some of Sacha Khari’s key insights from PACT’s Beyond The Box session:

How Sacha got into the business in the early 2000s:

“I did the same thing most people my age did trying to get into production…making teas and driving for free whilst trying to climb an established production ladder. On the side I was also shooting and directing music videos for grime and up-and-coming artists as well. But where it really popped for me was when I started collaborating with Mike Skinner from The Streets, working on his tours and music videos and eventually becoming the Creative Director of The Beats, a record label he started with Warner Music run by Ted May. We wanted to do something different with the artists on our roster, so started putting out unfiltered content on YouTube for free, which was a kind of maverick at the time as the platform had only just launched so went against the grain. Eventually we developed and produced a show called Beat Stevie which got a bit of a cult following. Channel 4 then reached out to us and said ‘Can we turn this into a TV show?’. It was a great moment for my career and opened up more opportunities for me.”

Arriving at C4 in 2021 as head of digital commissioning: establishing a direction of travel

“Before I arrived, digital commissioning existed at Channel 4 in various forms for a good few years, but I think it had lots of different objectives that didn’t always point to directly engaging youngs.”

“The first thing I did was an audit of everything. It’s not a very sexy word, but it was important, to look at what’s going well, where we can improve, what looks good on paper vs actually looks good vs what feels like Channel 4 content. We have three core genres under digital commissioning (entertainment, factual and comedy), money to spend and objectives to hit. So pre the wider strategy, the base level template was everything we put out needed to be audience first, built with social DNA, data informed, but have the storytelling capabilities and values of Channel 4 and the indies making it.”

Key youth audience observations: the importance of talent and community

“We never wanted to dilute the talent we used. Why would people come to us if there’s a more authentic version of the talent they like out there? But what I found was even when people were watching our content all the way through, they weren’t necessarily watching the next episode – and they certainly weren’t consistently watching other shows in our ecosystem. So it was important to address that, and building a community around our content felt like something that could be really powerful.”

The differences and similarities between older and younger audiences

“Young audiences like engaging with the same themes as older generations, relatable moments and characters, authenticity, well-crafted jeopardy, moments of joy, sadness etc. I can’t see that changing. However, a key difference is their relationship with content, thanks to the plethora of choice they would have grown up with vs Millennials and above. I don’t buy that it’s down to short attention spans, rather that they’ve been conditioned to very quickly filter out what they do and don’t want to watch, especially on social.”

The problem with generational labels

“My brief at Channel 4 was to connect to Gen Z, but at one end of the spectrum you have 13-year-olds coming home from school to do their homework; and on the other end, you could have a single parent in their mid-20s. There are different life pressures there, so the best way of addressing this challenge was working within a niche that could have broad and powerful appeal.

Formulating Channel 4.0; tapping into inner city culture

“The starting point for Channel 4.0 was try to tap into the inner-city youth culture I was exposed to. My mates were into US hip hop then jungle then UK garage then grime. Kids in the playground were all listening to this stuff and it had huge influence on the way we spoke, how we dressed and what we watched, but what was jarring for me was that it wasn’t notably reflected through mainstream media in the UK. However, online, there were creators out there and a handful of publishers who were doing an incredible job of reflecting this scene. Coming in to somewhere like Channel 4, it might have felt like this was niche, but actually it’s broad and powerful, and it was important to us that 4.0 reflected this community, but also did something fresh and subversive that could create new opportunity for talent, the indie community and our audiences”

Budgets and opportunities

“We are still commissioning this year and have about 10 more series opportunities on Channel 4.0 until September. Usually, we’re looking at 5-7 episodes per series and we operate at about £2-3K per minute in original and £4-8k per minute in branded. The digital commissioning team are also very open for opportunities outside of Channel 4.0 in factual, comedy and branded entertainment and will be briefing this out further in June, so watch this space.”

Growing the digital content ecosystem; collaborative effort needed to attract advertisers

“I want to see creators and publishers continuing to elevate themselves on YouTube and beyond. I’d love us to collectively grow the digital space in terms of quality, legitimacy and potency.We need creators doing it. We need other broadcasters doing it. And we need production companies doing it. If we’re going to grow the ad market and revenues we need quality and trusted products, whether mini, short or long form in the social space.”

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