Channel 4 Televsion and British Film Culture

  • Smith, Justin (PI)
  • McDonald, Paul (CoI)

Project Details


In 2007 Channel 4's 25th birthday was marked by a number of reappraisals of its broadcasting legacy. Yet its innovation in film sponsorship & programming scarcely received mention. At a time when Channel 4's future as a public service broadcaster is again in the media spotlight, this project directs attention specifically to its unique contribution to film culture in Britain. Following the completion of their AHRC-funded project 'British Cinema in the 1970s' (on which Dr Justin Smith was Co-investigator), film & television historians at the University of Portsmouth are ideally placed to embark on this new research which adopts an original historical approach to the relations between television & film.

In the wake of the 1977 Annan Report, Channel 4's charter made the promotion of film part of its working remit. Film on 4 broke new ground in directly funding feature film production for television broadcast & selective cinema release. But Channel 4's coverage of film culture (from magazine programmes to avant-garde seasons, from cutting-edge documentary to experimental animation) went further still in realising its ambition to promote diversity & minority interests. It also established a distribution arm (Film 4 International). From 1998 to 2006, it pioneered a subscription film service on its digital network (Film4) - another innovative enterprise in the context of a rapidly changing global television marketplace.

This 4-year project assesses Channel 4's impact on British film culture over 25 years. It will consist of 2 elements. The substantive part of the study, at the University of Portsmouth, will comprise 2 full-time PhDs, a major conference & website. The first doctoral project will research film policy, commissioning, programming & scheduling; it will provide the institutional & economic context & map the extent of Channel 4's broadcast coverage of film. The second PhD will attend to Channel 4's sponsorship of original feature film. It will survey films produced over the period & focus upon a number of case studies (incoporating their production histories, financial packages, distribution & exhibition arrangements & critical reception) in order to assess the cultural & aesthetic influence of Channel 4's films. Channel 4 has agreed to assist the project in facilitating interviews with current & former commissioning editors for Film. The conference (in yr2) will invite academics, TV & film industry personnel, & policy-makers, to debate the responsibilities & approaches of public service broadcasting to film culture in Britain, from the advent of Channel 4 to emerging internet film download environments. The conference proceedings will be published on a UoP website will which also showcase the project's work to a wider public. The final project outcome (in yr4) will be a monograph by the Principal Investigator (PI), Dr Justin Smith, entitled Channel 4 and British film culture.

The second, subsidiary, element of this project, sub-contracted to the Research Executive (RE) at the British Universities Film & Video Council, will be to produce a database of Channel 4's weekly Press Information Packs (1982-2004) under an agreement with Channel 4. Reporting to the PI, the RE, alongside the PhD students, will develop methods of interrogating this data primarily in order to gather information about film programming & broadcast film reviews. But, with agreed input from Channel 4, they will also reflect on the methodology used & demonstrate the wider potential of this digital resource for future media researchers. The database & full research context will be published (in yr3) & maintained on the BUFVC's website for the benefit of the UK HE community after the main project is completed. The project's findings, via book & web publications, will reach an audience across & beyond academia. The conference will provide a forum for opinion formers & policy makers to debate the role of public service broadcasters in film culture.
Effective start/end date1/04/1031/03/14


  • Arts & Humanities Research Council: £385,555.00


  • Media
  • Film History
  • Television HTC


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