Channel 4’s 4oD replacement All 4 reviewed: “Apparent simplicity masks a great deal of thought”

The new service bundles catch-up with exclusive content and premieres of shows like Made in Chelsea and orders its content in terms of past, present and future

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The problem with online video is that we are spoiled for choice. With so many programmes to choose from on services like iPlayer, Netflix and 4oD, it can be overwhelming simply deciding what to watch.

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Following the BBC’s restructuring of iPlayer last year, Channel 4 has unveiled their replacement for 4oD. Launching on iOS and PCs next Monday, ‘All 4’ will combine archive programmes and catch-up with exclusive online content.

RadioTimes.com had a play with the new system, and it’s certainly swish, if a bit clinical. Rather than the endless ramshackle lists 4oD users are currently confronted with, All 4 uses lots of little boxes and grey space to offer a sleek, easy to navigate site. It’s like someone has spent the weekend at Ikea and organised their entire life into curver boxes. While it lacks the wow factor of the iPlayer redesign – with it’s scrolling and swooshing – I personally found it easier to use.

This straightforward approach extends to the new features. Unlike 4oD which, despite the occasional exclusive shorts, was mostly a catch-up and archive service, All 4 includes live streaming of the broadcaster’s TV channels, exclusive shorts and premieres of TV shows like Made in Chelsea before they are shown on TV. These are organised into what the press release calls “three temporal states”: a sci-fi name for an easy to grasp system.

On Demand – The past

This includes catch-up, boxsets and exclusive online shorts (more on this below). The ability to download UK commissioned shows for 30 days is carried over from 4oD. As one Channel 4 exec put it: “To all intent and purposes, this is 4oD.”

Now – Now

Channel 4 claim that 90% of all TV is still watched live as broadcast, and this is where you find streams of Channel 4, More4, Film4 and the rest. I watched a bit of Frasier to check it worked. It did. This section will also spotlight what’s new on All 4 and, interestingly, will apparently include a lot of stories and features from the Channel 4 News team.

On Soon – The future

This section is slightly more esoteric. As well as previews, clips and interviews from upcoming shows, it will include ‘Rewinds’, when earlier episodes of a programme like Nashville are reposted ahead of the new series to let viewers catch up.

Speaking of looking ahead, All 4 will premiere shows before their broadcast on TV. First up: the new series of Made in Chelsea. O2 Priority customers will also get access to shows including Peep Show and Fresh Meat 48 hours before anyone else. RadioTimes.com was told that this would be accessed through O2’s portal, rather than featuring on the front of 4oD, so other users won’t have their nose rubbed in it too much.

But that’s not all. While far from Netflix spending millions on House of Cards, or the BBC moving an entire channel online, All 4 also has its own exclusive online content. The new line-up of Original Shorts is esoteric to say the least, including Rich Kids Go Shopping, which is about rich kids going shopping, and Total Recast, where director Simon Birch reshoots movies like The Hunger Games using members of the public. 

All 4 will launch online and on iOS devices first, before rolling out to other platforms later in the year. However, the current 4oD apps for Android, set-top boxes and games consoles will all rebrand to the new name, even if they don’t have the new features. RadioTimes.com has been assured that if you currently have 4oD on your device, it will still work come Monday.

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All in all, this is a sensible redesign from Channel 4, with its apparent simplicity masking a great deal of thought. We’ll have to wait until launch to see how features like personalised recommendations work in practice, but already All 4 is looking less like an alphabetised migraine and more like a pleasant way of whiling away an evening. Fundamentally it’s yet another sign that broadcasters no longer view online as an adjunct to their main mission, but as central to modern television, even if we’re not ready to give up the box just yet.