Why it’s make or break week for Channel 4

It’s time for Channel 4 to blast off - otherwise a few execs will get a rocket from boss Jay Hunt, says Mark Jefferies

A couple of months ago I suggested things were looking up for Channel 4 and it might be back pushing the boundaries again like it should.


But this week is arguably a make-or-break time for boss Jay Hunt and her team.

Looking ahead on Sunday night, Jay said: “This is probably the most exhilarating week since I have been at Channel 4″.

She is not wrong, and it is a big seven days in so many ways for the channel.

Live programmes are the main focus, where things could go brilliantly right or hopelessly wrong, and define and effect the whole year.

First up is the Cheltenham Festival, the biggest event in the horse racing calender. For four days, Channel 4 will feature races in the afternoon schedule and it will need to bring viewers the emotion and, perhaps most importantly, the fun over the fences and around the course.

In February C4 were confronted with accusations they have “taken the fun” out of their racing coverage.

A year into their new contract, the report said that their audience was down for 73 of the 90 days on which racing broadcast in 2013.

In their defence, Channel 4 pointed out that 42% of Britain’s viewing population watched its racing at some point that year.

But now they have taken over the reins from the BBC, they need a good festival with some great races and a brilliant atmosphere coming across on screen to bring more viewers back to the track more often.

Then on Sunday, a trio of programmes on Space will climax with a two hour live special where Dermot O’Leary will interact with the International Space Station as it orbits the earth.

This groundbreaking broadcast would be getting a lot more attention if it was on BBC2 but still has the potential to be a huge TV event offering incredible images being beamed back live to our living rooms as well as allowing Dermot to talk to the astronauts.

But where there is a chance of brilliant TV, there is also a chance of failure. When I met up with the team at a launch last week, before they headed to Nasa HQ in Houston, they admitted they expected to lose the live feed “once or twice” and would be prepared – but if it goes down for half the programme, I’m not sure viewers will stay with it.

Nothing like this has been done before, it is a brilliant gamble which I really hope pays off.

Aside from the live TV, The Taste will end this week and Ms Hunt has to decide if it is still a recipe for success with Nigella Lawson, despite having less than a million viewers.

And after an opening episode which was almost universally loved, she will find out if even more people can be attracted to Googlebox in its new primetime slot and whether it can become a Friday night staple.

All in all, lots of live TV and big decisions for Jay Hunt and Channel 4 this week. And – more importantly for viewers – the potential for some brilliant and unpredictable television.

Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror