Channel 4's film production arm Film4 was held up as a central part of the company's public service contribution during the broadcaster's 'Next On 4' future vision presentation earlier today.
In London, Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson, chief executive Andy Duncan and director of TV/content Kevin Lygo unveiled strategic plans for the company's future. Of course, most of the news concerned television programming, but there was continued commitment expressed for Film4.
The channel's leaders wrote in their report: 'Building on Film4's successes in recent years - winning five Oscars in the last four years - we will continue to ringfence £10 million a year for investment in British film development, commissioning and production, whilst also investing heavily in other initiatives to support film, including the Film4 channel, which offers a diverse range of British and international films.'
That means Film4's $20m annual budget is secure. 'There will be the same emphasis on new talent, giving the Shane Meadows and Sarah Gavrons of the future their first film to make,' added Lygo during the presentation.
A Channel 4 spokeswoman said that the budget isn't locked for a specific number of years but was said to be viable for 'the foreseeable future.' Of course, blue-sky thinkers in the UK film industry would have hoped for a larger pot earmarked for film, but the confirmation of business as usual was good news in the current economic climate.
Film4 head Tessa Ross said: 'Today Channel 4 has publicly reaffirmed it's commitment to film and its £10m investment. There is no time limit on this, and it reflects the fact that film is central to the heart of the corporation and at the core of its public service commitment. For 25 years Channel 4 has been passionate about nurturing brave and bold British film and continues to be so.'
In comparison, in October 2007, BBC Films saw an increase of $4m (£2m) in its former annual budget of $20m (£10m). That is confirmed for six years. It should be noted, however, that the $20m at Film4 is a larger percentage of Channel 4's overall budget, and the BBC figure also is used for overhead costs, unlike at Film4.
Before the recent stability under Tessa Ross (with Tessa Carlton and Sue Bruce-Smith), Channel 4 has had a recent up-and-down history with film. The company's film activities stretch back to the channel's early days of backing seminal British films such as My Beautiful Laundrette, Trainspotting and Secrets & Lies. In 2002, the broadcaster closed down the stand-alone FilmFour then headed by Paul Webster, and appointed Ross to head the restructured, in-house FilmFour in late 2003.
Since then, Film4's hits include Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane, Ken Loach's It's A Free World and Shane Meadows' This Is England and new projects including Bob Weide's How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and Peter Jackson's upcoming The Lovely Bones.
The channel also said it will extend its support for the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation until 2010. Since its establishment at the end of 2005, the organisation (known as Britdoc) has backed projects including Black Gold and We Are Together as well as the popular new Oxford-based documentary festival of the same name.
The channel did note, however, that television acquisitions for non-UK projects - especially US films and programmes -- would likely drop. The company said: 'As demand from other channels intensifies, acquisitions have become less defining than they once were, and competition has increased the cost of acquired content. Channel 4 will reduce its expenditure on acquisitions by 20% over the next five years, allowing it to focus more money on, and strengthen its commitment to, originated British programmes.'
Further, Channel 4 noted that its video-on-demand service, 4oD, had attracted more than 3m users from its launch in autumn 2006 to February 2008. During the next year, 4oD will become part of the new joint venture VOD service between BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4.
Outside of film, but related in the world of converging media, Channel 4 is backing a new $100m (£50m) fund for 'publicly valuable digital media,' called Four Innovation for the Public. That fund has partners including Advantage West Midlands, Invest Northern Ireland, NESTA, Scottish Enterprise and Yorkshire Forward.