Profit is why parts of Britain have become creative wilderness, says Channel 4 boss

A privately owned Channel 4 will comply with licensing requirements but not “take on its spirit,” its chief content officer said.

Lans for sale were set out in a white paper on Thursday, which argues that “the right owner will provide more investment and support Channel 4’s role in delivering public goods”.

But Ian Katz, chief content officer at Channel 4, claimed the broadcaster had “no incentive” to make the commitments it is currently making on public property and will mark the opposite of levelling.


Ian Katz, Chief Content Officer at Channel 4 (House of Commons/PA)

Speaking at Thursday’s Creative Cities Convention in Birmingham, he said: “They would be more focused on their own shareholders than on bringing value to the British people, would not open offices in places like Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol and would not spend in one Pound more for independent producers than they had to.

“In reality, we know that a for-profit Channel 4 would be pushed inexorably towards the same old tried and tested formats, the same old themes, the same old talent and the same old producers.”

In his speech, Mr Katz suggested the mandate for a privately owned Channel 4 to take creative risks, advocate for new talent and represent unheard voices would be “different”.

He said: “Three Channel 4 shows won awards on Sunday, six of them at the Bafta Craft Awards.

“Russell T. Davies’ AIDS-era masterpiece It’s A Sin; We Are Lady Parts, a riotous comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band founded by first writer Nida Manzoor; and Grenfell: The Untold Story, an account of the disaster from the residents’ perspective.

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“I don’t think any for-profit network would have commissioned any of these shows.”

The white paper states that privately owned Channel 4 would have to spend 25% of its budget on independent producers.

Mr Katz said: “As we normally spend around £400m on UK producers, that means a private Channel 4 could spend at least £300m less in the independent sector.

“Believe me, this new owner would have a whole room full of accountants and lawyers trying to figure out how to exactly follow the letter of this law, rather than embracing its spirit like we are doing now.”

Mr Katz added that currently 66% of Channel 4’s television hours are commissioned by the nations and regions, which is almost double the 35% license requirement.


The Channel 4 Building in London (Ian West/PA)

“Would a new, private owner buying Channel 4 in search of ‘synergy’ and ‘deduplication’ earn 66% commission – at a higher cost to its shareholders – or 35% and not a minute more?

“A Channel 4 just meeting its existing licensing requirements would have spent £86m less on productions outside of London last year.

“The pursuit of profit is why parts of Britain became creative wildernesses in the 90s and 00s as commercial television abandoned local production in favor of centralisation.

“It’s not any particular company’s fault, it’s just what happens when profit is the north star of your decision making.”

Mr Katz concluded that he hopes Channel 4 will continue to play a “central role” in the “great decentralization” of the television industry and a “central role in our national life”.

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/profit-is-why-parts-of-britain-became-creative-wildernesses-says-channel-4-boss-41598158.html Profit is why parts of Britain have become creative wilderness, says Channel 4 boss

Fry Electronics Team

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