For a broadcaster enduring yet another transition, it seems fitting that Channel 4 Education, through one of its latest slate of online projects revealed today, is helping teenagers tackle the emotional and philosophical challenges of life and death.
Channel 4 is adjusting to a new regime under the more broadcast-focused chief executive David Abraham as well as the departure of Janey Walker, managing director for commissioning and head of education, who left in June as part of a round of senior redundancies.
The education department – now as fiercely public-service-led as it is digital-media-led – appears to have survived Abraham's cull of what he saw as non-core projects such as 4iP, the embryonic but promising technology innovation fund shut down last month.
Walker has not been replaced although Alice Taylor, commissioning editor for education, is understood to have informally taken on more responsibility.
The new slate of projects includes The End, a platform game due to launch in April that "gently" helps teenagers explore their attitudes and beliefs, questioning why we are here and asking how we deal with death.
"We're curious that teenagers deal with things like life and death... so this will ask them to explore ideas of science, belief and what happens when I die. It will be dark and very interesting," said Taylor.
With input from doctor of philosophy Tom Chatfield, The End will quiz teenagers to show them how their beliefs align with famous philosophers throughout history.
Other projects include Footfall, like The End produced by indie creative studio Preloaded, where teenagers are charged with managing a business; Closet Swap produced by games company Inensu, which encourages swapping and upcycling clothes rather than buying disposable fashion; and Cover Girl by game studio Tuna, which asks players to take the role of a desk artists at a fashion magazine ordered to Photoshop images.
Speaking about Channel 4 Education's general remit, Taylor said it is "committed to the public service remit of reaching teenagers and young people with content relevant to their tastes and as such the budget is ringfenced".
Taylor defended the public service remit of her department and its shift away from traditional term-time morning slots, which reached 70,000-80,000 viewers, to more experimental games and projects on the web and on mobile. The annual education budget of £4m for 14- to 19-year-olds is to be supplemented with £1m for 10- to 14-year-olds as a result of the government's Digital Economy Act earlier this year.
She said the department was "not only allowed to but expected to fail in some areas". "That's the merit, the point of public service to try something not that's not commercially proven or that doesn't exist yet," added Taylor.
"Luckily we're having a lot of success with our stuff but without public service you would only do what is commercially viable. We want experimentation, diversity innovation and something for the public benefit, to make products that are about helping somebody or making them feel better."
Taylor said that in the two years since Channel 4 changed its education strategy there is "no doubt" that it reaches a more suitable audience, but added that reaching that audience online presents different problems. "It's a challenge to get things noticed – publishing things on the internet is like chucking them into the sea, rather than a river."
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