On leaving Channel 4
About 18 months ago I was made an offer I could not refuse: to help shape the startup of a £50m innovation fund, 4iP, with Europe's most creative public service broadcaster, Channel 4.
As 4iP's first recruit in the summer of 2008, I worked at opening the route to over £7.5m of that public co-investment funding, building on the initial legwork work of Director of Nations and Regions, Stuart Cosgrove, and colleague Claire McArdle. I've turned Letters of Intent into over £1m of real green money invested in digital media companies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North East. I've helped stimulate everything from some of the finest Twitter-bashing to some of the most serious digital media debate I've ever seen, on the growing 38minutes community.
The model works. And now it has come for me to move on, and try something different.
4iP has been simultaneously a hoot and one of the most demanding gigs out there, but I'm happy with what I've helped achieve. Besides making the vision a reality, I'm most proud of the products I've shaped from their 20 word elevator pitches into working, clickable, running code. I'm currently in the middle of an announcement and product launch spree running right up to Christmas:
This week I was frankly delighted with the reaction from the political, journalistic and social media savvy echelons about our investment in Slugger O'Toole, one of the most 4-like means through which to open the political debate. In the same breath we've let MirrorMe out of the lab and into Facebook, showing what the broadcaster of Embarrassing Bodies and Ten Years Younger can do in the same space with a standalone web app.
The arts platform Central Station was a concept on which 4iP was explained and sold, and this month we published the code that makes it a real, living and vibrant community of both aspiring and Turner-prize-winning talent. When we started out in earnest looking at how this thing would actually function it was a far cry from the nascent but impressive collections and communities we see there now: not all two-week old projects can claim a Turner Prize winner as one of their first supporters and members.
FestBuzz was, by four days at least, the world's first Twitter crowdsourced review site, and I'm still convinced this technology from the leading School of Informatics in Edinburgh will be the focus of innovation throughout 2010. Sentiment detection went mainstream this summer thanks, partially, to FestBuzz.
I was not-so-secretly keen to engage its competitor's creators, Blonde, in helping build discussion around and use of the You Booze You Looze iPhone app which we hope to launch next week. Along with MirrorMe, both are designed to cajole, shock and laugh us into thinking seriously about what we're putting down our throats and up our noses this Christmas.
Nearly all the companies I've worked with share something in common. With the exception of Central Station's ISO, who are big enough and ugly enough to fight their corner in a London-based commissioner's office, none of them would have had an easy time getting under the nose of a traditional broadcaster. Having a commissioner "down the road" has led many more people through Channel 4's doors in the digital media space. A minority, of course, were actually commissioned, but most left with some feedback, encouragement or a contact elsewhere who would be interested. I know of at least one major investment in a product that was too young for us, but which was perfect for another broadcaster and is now in early stages of a major commission. Having the chance to have informal chats with a regional commissioner, passionate about independent commercial production of media with a public purpose, has been a boon.
Both represent what I think 4iP has achieved most in a recession-bound digital economy. Digital Goldfish, discovered in January in a Dundee office too titchy for their 7" CEO, has now quadrupled in size and in confidence, claiming one of their games as Apple's Top 30 all-time bestselling. Ideonic is a games company out of the unlikely setting of Middlesbrough (Channel 4's Phil and Kirsty declared this the worst place to live in Britain not so long ago). They still wanted to work with us, and we were delighted to make a significant investment in a firm where no member is older than the CEO - and he's only 25.
I am going to spend the next four weeks wrapping up one of my most exciting commissions to date, before going on to do something just as exciting, but with fewer 4.30am starts, fewer 400 mile commutes and, regrettably, fewer airmiles.
As someone once said, it's been emotional.