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Q&A: Neil McCallum, Head of 4Music

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Q&A: Neil McCallum, Head of 4Music
This Friday Channel 4 adds another channel to its digital stable with the launch of 4Music, a dedicated, 24-hour music station. But what will 4Music - an evolution of popular video jukebox channel The Hits - bring to the already-crowded marketplace? And what does its birth mean for sister channel E4? We speak to Neil McCallum, head of music at Channel 4, to find out.

What's the thinking behind the launch of 4Music?
"It's very much a designated, 24-hour music channel to build on the success of what Channel 4 has done over the last few years in music. We're gathering a lot of our music output and putting it in one place, working very closely with [joint venture partner] Box TV to hopefully offer a music channel like nothing else that's out there at the moment."

For how long have you been planning to launch a dedicated music channel?
"The joint venture officially got announced last summer, and since then we've been working to bring 4Music to [air]. We did a trial earlier this year where we took ten Sunday nights on The Hits and experimented with different pieces of our content, and theirs, for 4Music Sundays. That was incredibly well received, and then off the back of that, the next natural step was to launch our own music channel."

How will 4Music be different from the many other digital music channels?
"I suppose there are no other music channels out there at the moment that have access to the volume and quality of music programming that Channel 4 does. Without wanting to name and shame, if you look to some of the other channels, the interpretation of what is music television has been broadened in a number of different directions. If you look across the 4Music schedule, you see Live From Abbey Road, The Album Chart Show and Transmission, through to projects like 4 Music Presents and live coverage of music events. Music is absolutely at the forefront of what we're doing here. If you look to other digital music channels, they have occasional pieces of music programming but it feels very occasional."

What does this mean for E4's daytime schedule? E4 Music has performed very well for the channel.
"The conversations have been running concurrently. E4 Music will return in September and that was always our intention. E4 Music has a very distinct tone of voice, it feels very E4. We're not looking to replicate what we've done on E4 Music [with 4Music], although clearly there's going to be a certain amount of crossover. On 4Music the programming will not be curated and authored in the way that E4 Music is by our presenting team. We feel that there's a distinction between the two offerings."

So there are no plans to slowly phase out E4 Music?
"E4 Music is currently commissioned from September until Big Brother begins in Summer 2009. We would never take a decision further than that. I think we just want to see how everything does going forward."

What's the thinking behind including shows such as Shipwrecked and The Sunday Night Project on 4Music? Live Big Brother coverage also seems to be on the schedule.
"On launch night we've got a big authored video countdown with two big Channel 4 faces - Steve Jones and Davina McCall - from 7pm til 9pm, then we've got the world premiere of the new Kylie concert recorded a couple of weeks ago at the O2. We've also got a Big Brother live programme, which comes off the back of the main C4 show at 11.10pm. Davina will alert viewers to the fact that 4Music has launched a couple of hours ago and then there will be a music-based piece of output coming from the Big Brother house. There is a music flavour to our involvement with Big Brother and this is the only bit of Big Brother programming you will see on the 4Music channel. Something like The Sunday Night Project is an entertainment and music piece. They have a weekly band and a large number of the hosts have been musicians - Mark Ronson, Geri Halliwell, Boyzone, Kanye West - so it's a fit and presents an opportunity for us to revisit that programming."

What's the strategy with commissioning original programming?
"It's important for us to be premiering and playing things exclusively on 4Music. In the first week we have Transmission and the third series of Ibiza Rocks. Box TV is bringing the weekly Hit 40 UK chart to the table and Miquita Oliver has a new series that will play Monday nights at 8. Also, this weekend we have about 20 hours of live coverage from V Festival exclusive to the 4Music Channel."

Is a 4Music+1 channel on the cards?
"Not at the moment, there are no firm plans at all. A number of our other digital channels obviously do have one - and we're constantly looking at the portfolio of channels, so where there are openings I'm sure we will seize upon them. The 50% joint venture stake that Channel 4 has in Box TV covers all seven channels so that's a decision the board would look at."

Do you have any targets, in terms of viewership, for 4Music? The Hits currently has a share of 0.4%, which, as you say, is very good.
"Giving exact figures is not something we're publicly looking to shout about, but obviously the investment in content shows that we're seriously committed and are looking to build on what we've achieved. Thankfully The Hits is the number one digital music channel, so for us it's about retaining that position and building on its success."

4Music launches Friday at 7pm on Sky channel 360, Virgin channel 330 and Freeview channel 18.

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