New Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon wants new rules for pubcaster content on digital platforms and plans to take the fight to government and regulators. Six months into her role as chief executive of Britain’s edgiest public service broadcaster (PSB), she set out her vision for Channel 4 at an event in London on Wednesday.
The BBC has been railing against a perceived threat from the FAANGs, but Mahon identified another concern for pubcasters in the digital age: the prominence of their content on digital services and platforms.
The issue transcends the usual ratings rivalries between the traditional broadcasters, Mahon told Variety. “It’s not a Channel 4 point; it’s an industry thing,” she said. “How do you protect public service broadcasting, regardless of whether that’s helping me [as Channel 4] or the BBC, because public service is a bigger picture issue for us. If you put a streaming stick in, if you switch on your smart TV, there is no protection for British content. I’m trying to make a bigger point about that.”
She had earlier told an audience of industry names and producers – including the likes of Stephen Lambert (“Undercover Boss”) and Ash Atalla (“The Office”) – that “in an era when democratic values are being eroded, that PSB prominence is even more important than ever, and I very much hope we can count on your support for that.”
The BBC is feeling the heat in terms of programming, but Channel 4 is ad-funded, which means it is competing with FAANGs on a commercial as well as creative level. “Netflix and Amazon are competitors of a kind we have not seen before,” Mahon said, and “Google and Facebook are competing hard for advertising revenue.”
In a competitive environment, Channel 4 must nurture up-and-comers and create a runway for the next generation, she said. “The risk to public service broadcasting is [that] Netflix and Amazon cream off all the talent. They are not necessarily doing the investment at a really early stage, and it is part of our role to do that.”
There were three key takeaways Wednesday: Mahon and programming boss Ian Katz want to reach out to younger audiences; to boost digital; and to foster a talent-friendly and inclusive culture. In terms of measuring success, the Channel 4 boss echoed the likes of Sky and Discovery in suggesting that traditional ratings are becoming obsolete. “Overnights no longer tell us the full picture so we’ll soon be announcing a new way of assessing viewing across all platforms,” she said.