Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

41.  Memorandum submitted by Mr Bob Tyler

  VITV operates two television channels on the Sky Digital platform, Channel U and Fizz TV. Both services work on a mainly telecom revenue model, with viewer interaction through text and other Telco services.

  Fizz TV, started in February 2005 is a predominantly Top 40 hit service, playing current chart music as chosen by the listener. A "Text to Screen" service accompanies the video in a split screen format allowing listeners to send messages as part of a Fizz community. The company operates a fully compliant system of moderation within the Ofcom Codes and general rules of Taste and Decency in conjunction with the live text service.

  Channel U started in February 2004 and although initially not a Black music style service, is now, through stealth, a prominent UK Urban Music TV channel, focusing on unsigned material and aspiring artists. We however insist that Channel U is not a black channel but an Urban genre because of the appeal of the music to a cross section of youth.

  The station is a free to air service on the BskyB platform and showcases many unsigned or up and coming musicians that do not have access to or would not be considered by other TV services, either mainstream or specialist.

  Musically Channel U features UK Hip Hop, UK Grime, Bashment and some Jamaican Dancehall. Rolling video programming is supported with occasional live performances, such as "open mic" sessions, interviews and showcase performances.

  Whilst fast becoming a brand in its own right, Channel U is sometimes perceived by viewers as London focused however there is a rise in interest from aspiring artists outside of the capital and the station is beginning to receive a regular flow of material and contact from other UK regions. There is also a mis-conception that Channel U is a black or ethnic proposition, the music is performed and enjoyed by everyone that participates in an Urban life style.

  Tight budgets and unsophisticated technology rather than degrade the product, actually enhances it, giving the station a different appearance from more mainstream TV stations. Consequently the Channel U on screen persona is fitting and liked by the young urban viewer. Channel U's main attraction demographically (45% approximately) are young people between the ages of 16 to 24 years (BARB data). Nearly 20% of the audience to Channel U are under 16.

  The audience profile of Channel U has disadvantages in respect of in-home viewing and transmission platforms. Young people tend not to be Digital TV subscribers in their own right. Effectively viewing has to be more opportunist than planed when considering a family TV set with Digital satellite. Secondly Cable TV propensity is greatest in urban areas, towns etc, often where the fixing of dishes is limited or prohibited. Carriage on Cable would greatly improve Channel U viewing, penetrating inner city areas and subsequently reaching more audience. However, cable services are dominated by major players and the network is restricted by capacity. Channel U has not been successful in obtaining carriage on the crowded Cable networks.

  Channel U operates under an Ofcom licence and adheres to the Broadcasting Codes as regulated by the regulator. At any one time approximately 70% of music videos played on the channel are from unsigned, mainly UK Urban artists.

  This places a regulatory responsibility on Channel U staff not only in terms of the volume of submitted videos for consideration but also administering the compliance issues in respect of the Ofcom Codes and Channel U standards.

  On an average month Channel U receives approximately 100 videos for consideration. Some (approximately) 30% are re-submission, videos sent back to the artist for editing to comply with acceptable standards. The process engages the time of more than three people, to register, review, assess and provide the appropriate feedback over content issues. Videos are always processed by a minimum of two people to create a transparent process. A second stage process examining any potential compliance issues is in place for submissions that need further review. This can generally number around 15 videos a week for closer examination.

  Approximately 30% of videos are accepted on first submission and approximately 20% are initially rejected on the basis of being poor quality, out of tune etc. Approximately 5% are rejected on the basis of violent undertones or similar, such as glorification of drug use etc, images of weapons and glorification or promotion of violent behaviour. Of the remaining, more than half are considered in terms of content for post-watershed viewing with the remaining being deemed suitable for daytime. In this process contact is made with the artist to advise of any recommended edits or alterations that would make the material more suitable etc. These are re-submitted after editing and treated as new submissions, taking their place in the submission queue.

  All videos must be submitted with copies of lyrics otherwise they will not be entered into the review system. A submission form requires full contact details and proper UK address etc.

  This process was fully introduced in January 2006 after a significant change of management against a back drop of two minor complaints. Subsequently, staff have been made more familiar with the appropriate Broadcasting Codes that apply, additionally three staff have attended Workshops provided by the regulator Ofcom. Channel U is proud of its current achievements in maintaining relationships with the regulator and in 2006 making no infringements.

  In addition to the regulator's Codes, Channel U also impose additional standards in respect of the inclusion of weapons in material both visually and lyrically. By issuing feedback and website information to artists we feel we help to create more awareness over the issues surrounding this genre of music. Although not yet statistically measured, we have, from the beginning of 2006 received less video entries that have, what we call a "dark nature". Artists have realised that making a video suitable for daytime viewing will have more plays on the channel than a video that is confined to post-watershed hours.

  When a video is finally selected for inclusion each is allocated a voting number that can either be voted for by text or telephone. A weekly chart promotes the Top Ten most voted videos, with some being popular for ten or more weeks. During 2006 around 50 different artists were showcased on the station with around 700 individual videos.

  A text to screen service of messaging operates for four hours daily. Viewers have the chance to text a message to the screen, supporting an act or simply messaging the Urban community. This is not a main revenue stream and carries high compliance costs in terms of message editing and moderation.

  The station also has a free service, "Friday Freeness" when all call charges are dropped. However there are still network costs involved and in effect the service costs money in terms of network charges. Additional revenues are made from limited advertising.

  In 2006 Channel U invested heavily in server capacity and re-launched its website ( in August 2006. On demand video viewing (not download) is already proving popular and additional staff have been employed to increase written content, including music/artist news and artist profiles.

Mr Bob Tyler

Head of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs

VITV/Channel U

January 2007

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