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U.K. Channel to Only Air Shows With Most Social-Media Buzz

Starting in July, 4Seven Will Take Its Programming Cues From Twitter and Facebook

By Published on . 2

Social media influences TV viewing habits, so Channel 4, the U.K.'s second biggest terrestrial commercial TV station, is launching a whole channel dedicated exclusively to the shows that create the most buzz on Twitter, Facebook and their rivals.

In true social-media style, the new channel, called 4seven, will introduce each program by broadcasting viewers' comments about the shows -- both good and bad.

'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding'

Despite the rise of PVRs and video-on-demand, 90.6% of all TV was still watched live in the U.K. in 2011, according to TV marketing group Thinkbox, so the launch of 4Seven will help Channel 4 maximize the audience for its most popular shows.

Steve Parker, partner at The Social Practice, part of CHI Group, said, "It's an interesting idea and starts with a good insight by tapping into behavior that is already happening. With social-media analysis tools, you can look at sentiment and volume and build your schedule for the next day."

4Seven launches July 4 and will reserve the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. weekday slots for the shows that created the most buzz on social media -- as well as in the newspapers -- during the previous 24 hours. At 9 p.m., 4Seven will broadcast the same show that Channel 4 broadcast at 9 p.m. the night before, and the rest of the schedule will be filled with programs that have proved most popular during the course of the previous week.

Channel 4 will fill 4Seven's schedule with shows from its whole stable of TV stations, including E4, More4 and Film4. Channel 4 has the youngest audience profile of its terrestrial rivals, but even so, 95% of its shows are watched on live TV rather than through catch-up options.

"This will work particularly well for Channel 4, because it shows a lot of documentaries, one-offs and short series, so people do miss stuff," Mr. Parker said.

Channel 4's most-popular programs include "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding," which started as a one-off documentary but has since been expanded into two series, about traveler communities and their over-the-top wedding celebrations. Channel 4 also showed "Homeland" in the U.K., and will air the second series later in the year. Shows currently popular on the 4OD catch-up app include "Embarrassing Bodies," "The Good Wife" and "The Fairy Jobmother."

Jim Dowling, managing partner at Cake, which handles social media for Sony, Ikea and Carphone Warehouse, said 4Seven is a great idea.

"The opinion people trust the most is that of their friends, not TV critics or commissioning editors," he said. " I like the idea of a broadcaster listening to its audience and serving up what it wants. Advertisers will enjoy the comfort buying spots around shows that have already been given the thumbs up by the audience."

David Abraham, Channel 4 CEO, said in a statement, "With so much choice out there, viewers are increasingly saying they sometimes just miss the best stuff, despite their PVRs and VOD. 4Seven will schedule the main channel content that is creating noise -- among social media, bloggers, commentators and of course via contact our viewers have directly with us - and incorporate this buzz into the look and feel of the channel.

"It's the paradox of choice -- there is such endless choice that people become paralyzed," Mr. Parker said. "People like to have their choices curated for them. The tricky thing is sentiment -- you see spikes but you also need to understand slang, sarcasm and humor, to understand positive, negative and neutral -- straight volume doesn't necessarily mean it's a great program."

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