Film4 is a British digital television channel available in the United Kingdom, owned and operated by the Channel Four Television Corporation, that screens films. It offers films in standard definition free of charge. To access the high definition version of the channel, viewers must have a paid subscription with Virgin Media or Sky. The channel is also available in the Republic of Ireland on Virgin Media, Sky and Eir Vision and in Switzerland on UPC Cablecom and Swisscom.
Film4 was started in 1982 as Film4 Productions, a film production company owned by Channel Four Television Corporation and has been responsible for backing a large number of films made in the United Kingdom, and around the world. The company's first production was Walter, directed by Stephen Frears, which was released in 1982. In 1998, the outfit was re-branded as FilmFour, to coincide with the launch of a new Digital TV channel of the same name. Film4 was originally known as FilmFour and became Channel 4's second channel (after Channel 4 itself). It was a subscription-only service available on satellite television via the Sky platform, digital terrestrial via ITV Digital (until the platform went into administration in 2002), and most UK cable services. It cost £5.99 a month, eventually rising to £7. The launch night, which was also broadcast on Channel 4, was hosted by Johnny Vaughan and the first film to be shown was What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
Channel 4 cut its budget from £30 to £10 million and 50 staff in 2002, due to mounting losses, and re-integrated FilmFour as a division of its TV operation to continue to invest in new films. The cuts were a consequence of FilmFour's unsuccessful attempts to compete with Hollywood. David Thompson, head of BBC Films, described it as "a very sad day" for the British film industry. The British film industry needs confidence right now and this doesn't inspire confidence,"
In 2004, Tessa Ross became head of both Film4 and Channel 4 drama. The name "Film4 Productions" was introduced in 2006 to tie in with the relaunch of the FilmFour broadcast channel as Film4. FilmFour Weekly ceased broadcasting on 19 July 2006 when the subscription service ended. The subscription service ended on 19 July 2006 and the channel re-launched (under the slightly modified name of Film4) as a free-to-air service a few days later on 23 July. When the channel became free, it also returned to digital terrestrial as part of the Freeview brand, and became completely free-to-air on satellite television. Due to the change, the channel's availability increased from 300,000 (subscribers) to 18 million households. It also changed its broadcasting hours to 12:45 - 08:45, and commercial breaks were included during films for the first time. The first film broadcast under the new format was the British non-subscription television premiere of Lost in Translation. Prior to the arrivals of Movie Mix and movies4men on the Freeview platform, Film4 was the only free film channel available on digital terrestrial television.
From 23 May 2009, the broadcasting hours were changed to 11:00am - 04:00am, with it broadcasting teleshopping or an animated caption stating it will return at 11:00 during the downtime hours.
On 1 November 2010, Film4 partnered with FilmFlex to launch Film4oD.
On 2 September 2014, Film 4 debuted a new on-air look, designed by Man vs. Machine. There are 15 new idents in the series which run alongside a new on-screen presentation.
Film4 did not originally broadcast many blockbusters, but nowadays broadcasts many mainstream Hollywood films. The channel frequently has themed nights or seasons in which a number of films centred on one genre, director, actor or studio are shown. As Channel 4 also owns a film production company, Film4 Productions, it shows many of its in-house productions.
Occasional non-film (but film-related) programmes are also shown.
Wherever possible, films are shown in their correct aspect ratio. No digital on-screen graphics (DOGs) are superimposed. Under UK broadcasting rules, it was able to screen most films unedited and in earlier timeslots when it was a subscription channel, but these concessions were lost when it became free-to-air, and more adult material is shown only after the 9pm watershed. Some films are now edited to make them suitable for pre-watershed screenings, a decision which was criticised by viewers on the channel's now defunct internet forum.
Prior to 20 August 2007 Film4 operated a one-hour-timeshift channel, Film4 +1, on satellite, cable and Freeview. This channel was dropped on Freeview to make way for Channel 4 +1 but returned on 27 August 2013, it continues to be broadcast on Sky, Virgin and Freesat services. As of November 2014, Film4+1 became available via Freeview HD Services only.
Later, additional channels were added, FilmFour World and FilmFour Extreme which operated on a timeshare and the timeshift channel FilmFour +1. FilmFour World and Extreme were discontinued in 2003 and replaced by FilmFour Weekly, which screened four films across the week at the same time each day to make it easier to catch a film at least once. FilmFour Weekly ceased broadcasting on 19 July 2006 when the subscription service ended.
The channel offers an online Video on demand service, Film4oD.
On 20 July 2010, Film4 HD launched exclusively on Virgin Media's cable television platform on channel 429. Film4 HD launched on Sky on 2 September 2013.
To alert the public to it going free-to-air, Film4 launched a massive campaign directed by Kevin Spacey featuring major celebrities advertising Film4 in odd ways. The slogan of the campaign was "FILMS FOR FREE". Examples include:Judi Dench in a lobster costume, operatically singing the words "Film Four!"
Lucy Liu in a banner plane, insulting Ray Winstone and Christian Slater who have incorrectly erected a 'Film4 is free' sign, whilst her own banner is displayed upside-down.
Ewan McGregor in a tomato costume, talking to Judi Dench about whether he is a fruit or a vegetable.
Gael García Bernal putting leaflets, advertising Film4, onto cars and setting off their alarms. To which he then throws the remaining leaflets in the air.
Willem Dafoe saying to one of the advertising campaigners (played by Mackenzie Crook), "First day? It'll get better."
Rhys Ifans advertising the channel door-to-door, but often having a door slammed in his face.
Sky Cinema (formerly known as Sky Movies) parodied this campaign with the slogan: "Films ad free", referring to the commercial breaks during films.