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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 18:17 GMT
E4 survives its first year
Ali G
Ali G expressed the channel's young, funky brand image
Channel 4's pay-TV channel E4 celebrates its first birthday on Friday.

The channel, aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds, was launched with a fanfare of publicity, a cool, young image and 40m of investment.

But few observers would have predicted a year ago how difficult the multi-channel market would have become.

Friends
E4 viewers see Friends months before terrestrial viewers
Analysts are divided as to how well - or badly - the channel has fared in its first year.

E4 was set up to lure young adult viewers - one of the most difficult demographic strands to capture - back to TV with a station designed for them.

E4 was launched with custom-made links from Ali G and was able to screen hit shows like Friends and ER six months before Channel 4 viewers were able to see them.

E4 logo
E4 commissioned 19 new shows in its first year
The channel commissioned 19 new shows in its first year, of which five or six - including Banzai, As If, Five Go Dating and Chained - have been or will be recommissioned.

Six E4 shows have transferred to Channel 4, a reward for the risk-taking atmosphere at the new station.

Brand

And the channel claims that its modest audience target - an 0.8% audience share in multi-channel homes - has been met.

Big Brother
Big Brother bolstered E4's ratings significantly
It also says that the channel's brand is strong and attractive for such a new venture.

But E4 has its critics, and not just from rival channels.

It is clear that the station will continue making a loss for some years, yet the audience penetration - as with most other brands in the multi-channel market - is tiny.

Sceptics say that the only real ratings hit on E4 was Big Brother - also carried in a different format on Channel 4 - and that without the Big Brother effect, the E4 audience share would be nearer 0.5%.

Banzai
Surreal betting show Banzai is one of E4's most successful programmes
There is also the question of how exposed the E4 investment will leave Channel 4 in such a difficult TV market.

It is a market which will only become more difficult in 2002, with ITV2 now on Sky Digital and the BBC's digital service BBC Three waiting in the wings - if Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell gives it her approval.

But, while acknowledging the difficulties ahead, E4 still maintains that its offer - which launch controller Kevin Lygo jokingly described as Channel 4 without the boring factual bits - is on course to start feeding profit back to its parent by 2005.

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