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Channel 4 is axing 4iP, its £20m digital innovation fund, as part of a restructure that sees its online teams integrated into one department.
Education, online products, cross-platform commissioning and remaining 4iP staff move to a single department overseen by Richard Davidson-Houston, who was appointed head of online in August. He will report to Channel 4’s incoming chief creative officer, Jay Hunt, when she joins in January.
The Channel 4 director of creative diversity, Stuart Cosgrove, said the new structure would provide more clarity in the commissioning department, although he said there would not be a reduction in headcount.
But Cosgrove did confirm that the restructure would mean the 4iP brand would “disappear”, coinciding with the end of its two-year pilot and that the fund’s remaining budget will be invested in alternative technology projects. Channel 4 will continue to fund 4iP projects to which it has already committed, he said.
“We are not junking any projects and this won’t see the diminution of investment in innovative technology. We’re not pulling the plug on anything,” added Cosgrove. “Technology innovation and digital media will be across the company rather than in one unit, and we will continue to commit that level of investment.”
Cosgrove said 4iP had created a “bridging mechanism” with technology hubs in different parts of the country, such as gaming in Dundee and digital media in Brighton, that have evolved away from traditional TV production bases. 4iP funded about 60 projects in two years, including the iPhone app Audioboo, the Newspaper Club printing service and Chromaroma, which turned Oyster card check-ins into a health game.
The fund was announced in August 2008 as a new initiative championed by former Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan to “nurture new talent, champion new voices and fresh perspectives” and reinvent public service under the guidance of Tom Loosemore, formerly senior digital media strategy adviser at Ofcom and head of Web 2.0 at the BBC.
Channel 4 said it would commit £20m of a total budget of up to £50m, with additional funding through partnerships that included Arts Council England, Nesta and Scottish Enterprise. Cosgrove said 60% of Channel 4’s own budget, or £12m, has been spent. 4iP appeared to stall last year when Loosemore fell ill, and when digital commissioner Daniel Heaf returned to BBC Worldwide in June. But it was the appointment of new chief executive David Abraham that sealed 4iP’s fate, with the new arrival tightly refocusing Channel 4 around TV programming.
The new Channel 4 Online division consequently has a strict remit of work that grows TV audiences, generates revenue or “increases public value” for the broadcaster.
Loosemore declined to comment on the closure of 4iP or on his future at the broadcaster.
“It’s a great disappointment that this hugely ambitious project is closing,” said Audioboo founder Mark Rock, who received about £80,000 in 4iP funding in exchange for equity. “It looks like yet another example of TV executives not getting it, which is partly why TV is in such a moribund state. 4iP fitted with Channel 4’s brand when they were looking to be a leader in digital development, but it conflicted with the traditional TV priorities at C4 and arguably spread its net too wide. It had too many projects and not enough focus on the most important of those. It was also bad timing to launch before the downturn.”
The head of another project funded by 4iP said: “At that moment in time it was a godsend, because there are few opportunities and most investors are scared to take risks. But 4ipP could have been more than the sum of its parts if they had used all these tools to create one platform. They could have created a lasting edifice, but where did that money go?”
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.