Channel 4, as part of its recently unveiled Fast Forward strategy, is shaking up the schedule for its groundbreaking soap, Hollyoaks. This soap became the first in the UK to adopt a genuinely digital-first model last year. The new episode strategy, tailored to evolving viewing habits, will take effect from September 2024.

Under the data-driven drop pattern, Hollyoaks will transition from five new episodes per week to three, available on streaming platforms, E4, and YouTube. This shift is backed by extensive research identifying it as the optimal approach to maintain the engagement of core audiences and attract new viewers in a highly saturated content market. Additionally, a weekly hour-long omnibus episode filled with drama will be broadcast on Channel 4 and accessible for streaming.

The decision reflects the viewing patterns of young audiences who already consume Hollyoaks, with Channel 4 data revealing that the most devoted fans watch an average of three episodes per week. This strategic move aims to make a more powerful impact with fewer, high-impact episodes.

In conjunction with these episodic changes, Lime Pictures has appointed Hannah Cheers as Executive Producer to spearhead Hollyoaks’ exciting evolution. Cheers, who has been the interim showrunner since September 2023, played a pivotal role in overseeing standout storylines and the successful return of iconic characters. These efforts include the January stunt episode, which, along with outstanding production values, solidified the success of the streaming-first approach.

While audiences continue to gravitate towards strong brands and familiarity, the landscape is filled with an ever-growing number of titles. The reduction in episodes will enable a greater focus on beloved characters and compelling storylines, aligning with viewer preferences. This new format aims to keep Hollyoaks relevant, competitive, and ahead of the curve in a changing TV market.

Hollyoaks, committed to being the youngest-skewing and most innovative soap addressing real-life issues authentically, will continue to offer spectacular storylines and drama. The focus will be on fan-favorite characters and their interconnected lives, aligning with research indicating viewer preferences.

Building on the success of recent special episodes, the show aims to deliver concentrated, well-crafted installments that resonate with viewers. The January special episode featuring an explosive multi-vehicle collision witnessed a 62% increase in streaming views, making it the biggest Hollyoaks episode ever on Channel 4 streaming.

The digital-first streaming pattern introduced in September of the previous year has also demonstrated strong performance, with a 33% increase in streaming views since November 2023 compared to the preceding four months.

The changes in the drop pattern will inevitably impact the production of the show. Channel 4 will collaborate with Lime Pictures to minimize these effects where possible.

Ian Katz, Chief Content Officer said: “Hollyoaks is on sparkling creative form at the moment and these changes will ensure it remains compulsive viewing for a new generation of fans as viewing habits change. The show has always been at the forefront of innovation in all of its forms, including increasing and decreasing episode numbers in response to viewing habits. These changes are a decisive step forward, designed to reflect how audiences are watching. A tighter schedule promises a new era of more scale and impact. We are of course mindful of the impacts on the production team and will work closely with Lime Pictures to minimise these where possible.

“We are also delighted that the brilliant Hannah Cheers will be leading Hollyoaks into its fourth decade. Hannah is passionate, and rigorous and has an outstanding track record of finding and developing talent.

“Hollyoaks has played a crucial role in nurturing talent for nearly thirty years, and we are excited to continue to develop new opportunities and nurture the stars of tomorrow. I would like to thank all the Hollyoaks cast and crew who have been involved in the programme since its inception.”

MDs of Lime Pictures, Kate Little and Claire Poyser said: “Given the success of the new streaming-first model, we are delighted that Hollyoaks remains at the forefront of Channel 4’s digital-first strategy, bringing authentic, unexpected and untold stories that inspire younger audiences in a way that they want to consume them.

“We are absolutely thrilled that Hannah Cheers will lead the show into its next exciting chapter. Evidently, there are implications that will mean we have to reshape Hollyoaks’ production model and amidst the buoying news for the future of the show and its audience, we must also acknowledge that a reduction in cast and crew, will be very difficult and we will support everyone in that process.”

Hannah Cheers, Executive Producer said: “Hollyoaks offers a unique proposition: bold, escapist, relatable, youth-skewing and multi-generational stories, told in its innovative and technicolour signature style. The show continues to bring people together by making them feel something and everything. Approaching its 30th anniversary in 2025, Hollyoaks matters just as much now as it did at its trailblazing launch.

“There may be speculation about the future of Continuing Drama, but as someone who was brought up on the nation’s soaps – and remains a true fan – I believe their value must not be underestimated.

“Soap audiences grow up alongside their favourite characters over a period of many years; the investment in their stories is huge. The genre’s ability to initiate important conversations is unparalleled, especially when it all comes served up with joy, humour and jaw-dropping twists. I want future generations to experience that.”

“I am honoured to lead Hollyoaks into its fourth decade on Channel 4 and drive the vision of this transition.”

Ben Wadey, Channel 4 Commissioning Executive for Hollyoaks said: “In January I promised a blockbuster year for Hollyoaks and after a powerful start with our breath-taking hour-long special, there’s no let-up in momentum. At Hollyoaks we have always been brave, leading the way and not only tackling stories that others wouldn’t dare to, but changing and evolving to the needs of our viewers. Don’t forget Hollyoaks initially launched with just one episode per week in 1995, gradually increasing to two in 1996, three in 1999, four in 2001 and finally five in 2003. But now in 2024, we must flex again, as we have always done, to best serve our audiences and keep our young-skewing soap in step with young viewers. We’re not afraid of change, it has been key to Hollyoaks’ longevity so far and will be the key to its future.”