Digital spray
: Channel 4, innovation and youth programming in the age of new technologies

  • Michael O'Neill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis provides an analysis of youth television, digital content and Channel 4-as-public service broadcaster and has three primary aims.

Firstly, the thesis aims to provide a series of "forgotten histories", offering a corrective to pre-existing narratives surrounding Channel 4, extensively utilising untapped resources (the Channel 4 Press Packs), along with a collection of digital archive materials. This is done in order to re-evaluate the broadcaster's purpose, strategies and programming at a vital moment in its history, using these neglected moments to interrogate Channel 4's current relationship with youth audiences and content.

Secondly, the thesis aims to reframe Channel 4's history through the lens of its youth provision, as the targeting of this demographic was seen as the "least worst" way of balancing its role as public service publisher and commercial corporation. This choice is discussed regarding the long-term impact upon Channel 4's identity and strategy, whilst offering a nuanced conceptualisation of what constitutes “youth” and how Channel 4 addressed it.

Lastly, I aim to introduce a series of original conceptual frameworks in order to illustrate Channel 4's longstanding lack of consistency in terms of commissioning, promotion and organisational strategy, culminating in the use of the term spray. Spray encapsulates both the post-broadcast fluidity within British broadcasting, as well as Channel 4's chaotic and transitory strategic choices as it grapples with its historical identity and purpose.

This thesis highlights the contradictory nature of Channel 4, with its opposing remit obligations of public service innovation and commercial viability, with the disparity between its promotional rhetoric and the production reality being pronounced. Through discussion of critically ignored content and programming strands, “forgotten histories” are produced in order to understand contemporary broadcasting, whilst extrapolating its future direction. The thesis also articulates the uneven and variable impact of new media consumption practices, promotional strategies and technological innovation upon both Channel 4 and its current (and future) audiences through the deployment of original conceptual frameworks and extensive analysis of Channel 4's multiplatform/digital policy.
Date of AwardNov 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorLincoln Geraghty (Supervisor) & Trudy Barber (Supervisor)

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