LONDON—The world’s first crowdfunded TV channel has officially launched in the UK. Together is now available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat.
The channel has been funded by more than 200 individual shareholders and donors including Sky, Big Lottery Fund, Barrow Cadbury Trust and public broadcasters and aims to celebrate the best of British people and communities through a mix of original content and loved classics.
Previously on air as the Community Channel, planning to relaunch the channel began in the summer of 2016, as Together chief executive Alexander Kann tells TVBEurope: “Community Channel had been owned and operated by a charity called Media Trust for the first 16 years of its life. It launched on Sky in 2000 and existed thanks to the support of the media industry and largely grant funders and some commercial revenue. Then in 2016 a decision was made to hand ownership over to its viewers, to the public. We ran a crowdfunding campaign selling community shares in the channel.
“We had a target of £300,000 and we exceeded that. In the end we raised about £394,000 from both individual and institutional investors and donors,” Kann continues.
“In September 2017 we issued all our shares, appointed a new board, including directors who are elected from the membership and since then we have been working on where we go, what we do and we are now in a position to relaunch.”
Kann says a lot of planning went into the new channel’s brand identity as the team wanted it to be “fresh and relevant” in the multi-platform world. “Some of our viewers had bad preconceptions about what would be on Community Channel,” he says. “Once you tuned in you realized the content was much better than expected. After 16-17 years we needed to show intent and have a bit of a creative and brand refresh.
“We've been working on creative and programming scheduling as well as digital marketing campaigns. We had quite an ambitious timeline of turning everything around in about four months. And then last week we launched across all the platforms.”
Together will have a new scheduling structure based around three key content strands: well-being, creativity and community. Kann says a lot of time and research has gone into planning the new channel's content. “We took three or four years worth of surveys, focus groups and audience insight to see what kind of programming people respond to and the topics they like,” he explains “It's also helped shape our target audience. So we are targeting women age 40 to 60.
“We know women are much more likely to participate in local community life then men, as shown by our research and also the Community Life Survey by the Office of National Statistics. So we created these three categories which are 'better together,' which is about health, well-being, food, getting outdoors, exercise, good mental health. We've got 'make together,' which is all about arts and crafts, passions and creativity and engaging in local groups through that, and then 'get together,' which is all about community life, so it's about your faith, your sexuality, your ability.”
Helping to get the word out about Together are a number of organizations. It has “15 to 20” media partners who are supporting the channel including the likes of Channel 4, ITV, Sky, News UK, The Guardian and The Telegraph.
“We approached our partners and said 'we're doing this campaign. We're a charitable organization, can you gift us some of your promotional spots or your adverts?',” says Kann.
“So, for example, ITV have made us a commitment to broadcast our launch promo on ITV Hub in some of their ad inventory in their VoD space. Channel 4 and Discovery are both giving us promo air time. And then print outlets are doing a mix and match of print ads and digital ads. Facebook have come on in a big way. It’s given us £60,000 worth of Facebook ad credits to use over the next year.
"It's an amazing thing how the media industry are supporting us through space and capacity like Sky, Arqiva, Virgin and Freesat: to put the channel on air at low or no cost rates which we couldn't afford otherwise.”
So having raised a considerable amount through crowdfunding, how long will the money last? “We've had further investment in the channel since then so we're on a fairly good financial footing,” says Kann “Part of this rebrand is to increase our commercial income. To be frank, we have pretty good distribution as a channel. There are many channels that would be very envious of the fact that we're across the four main platforms. What we need to do is encourage our viewers to stick with the channel for longer and be successful in driving up our commercial revenue through commercial impact but also through other commercial partnerships and sponsorship.
“We've given ourselves the next 12 to 18 months to really bed this in. It’s the next six months that are really going to be key in seeing how successful we are in driving up audience. This is why we're not launching everything on day one, we've got programming lined up right through to the autumn including a couple of original series, one that launches in March and one that launches in May.
“I'm really looking at the next three months so that when it comes to launching our series in May we're in the best possible position to get viewers in and engage them with what should be a great series.”
This story first appeared on TVT's sister publication TVB Europe.