As part of its Originals series, Link Up TV honours Channel U by presenting a documentary looking back at the channel’s history.
Before the days of social media and online video/music-sharing platforms, many of us watched music videos on TV. Multiple music channels offered viewers a wide variety of options. Despite this, many black British artists had yet to be featured on our televisions. This would change with the creation of Channel U.
The documentary talks about Channel U’s early beginnings with founders Stewart Lund and Darren Platt. Platt wanted the channel to focus on viewers and be “cooler than The Box“. Channel U initially began showing music videos from various genres. But, this would change with the arrival of prominent key figures. These were Riki Bleau, Patrick Egbuchiem, Luke Biggins, and Cat Park. The newly added additions were vital to the channel’s success. It began to find its focus, shifting towards up-and-coming UK Grime artists.
Throughout the documentary, artists, producers, radio/TV personalities, and YouTubers describe the impact of Channel U; calling it the “epicentre of Black Youth Culture” and “The pirate radio station of TV”. While talking about the channel’s impact, we get to hear directly from those affected. Many artists had their music promoted through word of mouth – travelling across the UK to sell CDs. Channel U helped so many artists by exposing their music and building their audience.
Several segments in the documentary showcase many of the various music videos shared on the network. With music videos being the focal point of the channel, it inspired artists to create better visuals as well as better music. Channel U wasn’t just a platform for artists, it was a platform for filmmakers too.
Although Channel U was a successful channel, behind the scenes it was a difficult business to run. It wasn’t all fun and games- from artists demanding their music videos be played to even various break-ins. The channel became in debt as running a digital satellite music channel on SKY wasn’t the easiest and cheapest job. It also had to compete with the emerging growth of online platforms such as YouTube. Artists were now able to upload and share their own music videos.
Eventually, the channel had a rebrand – changing its name to Channel AKA. However, at that point, there was no way of reliving the success of the channel’s early years. In 2012, Channel AKA was sold to All Around The World Productions; part of Universal Records. However, six years later the channel would be no more as on June 1st 2018, Channel AKA ceased broadcasting.
Channel U was essential to the development and emergence of many artists. Their platform provided them with opportunities they would not have received otherwise. It showcased underground talents who were finally able to reach the surface. It introduced us to many breakout artists such as Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal, Wretch 32, Chip, Giggs, Skepta, and N-Dubz. Although the channel may be closed, its impact still resonates with many to this day.