Unmissable: Will a 12-hour E4 switch-off encourage more teens to head to the polls?

The ITV leaders' debate (left - right) host Julie Etchingham, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Li

The ITV leaders' debate (left - right) host Julie Etchingham, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, Labour leader Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo: ITV - Credit: PA

Could a day off from repeats of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory – or the lack thereof – hold the key to this year’s general election outcome?


Those in charge of E4 certainly think they could, as the bigwigs have decided to shut the whole digital channel down for 12 hours on May 7 as the nation – and hopefully a bigger percentage of the younger generation this time around – goes to the polls.

Instead of repeats of the previous evening’s Hollyoaks, from 7am E4 will simply show footage of “Darren”, the man with his finger on the button, ready to switch the shows back on at 7pm.

Some might say that it’s a good start and “how about switching off E4 all year round?” but they’d be missing the point.

The aim is to encourage the channel’s core demographic of 15- to 35-year-olds to mobilise and make their choice on election day, not that they should need much prodding in the direction of the polling stations with so much at stake.

Cast-members of the E4 show How I Met Your Mother (l-r) Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, Josh R

Cast-members of the E4 show How I Met Your Mother (l-r) Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders and Jason Segel - Credit: PA

The concept from Channel Four Television is bold and says a lot about how much we want “young people” to engage with the political process. (I say “young”, but I still – for a few more weeks at least – fall into the E4 demographic, although hardly consider myself young these days).

We need them to take part in this national debate and decision-making day and should politely be doing all we can to get them off their backsides and down to their village hall/community centre and shove their ballot paper into the box.

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But if teenagers really need to have their daily dose of dismal Rules of Engagement re-runs put on hold for 24 hours in order to convince them to drag themselves off the sofa, then I’m not sure if we should be too hopeful of banking on their judgement – although, as always, it’s the taking part that counts.

From around 75 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voting 50 years ago, it’s now dropped to under half. Could E4’s big switch-off contribute to a reversal in the trend? It’s impossible to tell but, ultimately, unlikely to make a significant impact. The brief break in broadcasting is hardly going to prompt much more than a switch over to another of the hundred-or-so channels available, but the point it’s making is a positive one – sending a message to young people that there’s something massive going on, and that they have a part to play, if they so desire.

Dan Brooke, Channel 4’s chief marketing officer, said: “Less than half of under-25s voted at the last election so we’ve engaged the most powerful weapon that we have at our disposal to try and boost that number – switching off their favourite TV channel for the day.”

But the conversation has started and, for millions, it’s the first time they’ve been able to play a part in deciding the next chapter of the nation’s future, so anything that can encourage them to do so should be welcomed.

Of course, the day itself, as well as the day or two before and after, will see wall-to-wall coverage across the main networks, with viewers bombarded with fancy swingometers, squawking reporters stationed at counts, 3D maps and interactive Twitterboards. If you’re not a fan of politicians and people who like talking about them, then it’s not too late to book your holiday. Just make sure you’ve got your postal vote sorted.

What do you think? Email elliot.furniss@archant.co.uk or follow on Twitter @Elliot_Furniss