MipFormats: Channel 4’s Alex Mahon on Reinventing Unscripted TV in Netflix Era

Alex Mahon, chief executive of Britain’s Channel 4, said Saturday that producers and broadcasters need to work together to move the unscripted genre forward, as has already happened on the scripted side. Giving a MipFormats keynote interview in Cannes, to a room of mostly unscripted producers and distributors, the former Shine boss said there was work to be done to remain relevant in a world where the digital giants have changed consumer expectations.

“What do you need now? You need the best creative minds who are quite fleet of foot, and that’s what scripted has done actually, more than we have in unscripted,” she said. “I think that’s the challenge to us on the non-scripted side: How can we come up with formats that are less repetitive in the ways of the talent show and the studio show?”

She added that hit shows are getting bigger, but the industry needs to create an environment where new ideas can break through. “Whilst one might think with so many shows – peak television – [that] the market is more fragmented, what we’re seeing is big shows are getting bigger. ‘Bake Off’ is massive for us, ‘Blue Planet II’ on the BBC gets a bigger audience than ‘Blue Planet I, ‘Roseanne’ in the U.S. is getting massive audiences,” she said.

In an environment where the biggest shows stand out, responsibility lies with producers to generate ideas and broadcasters to create space to experiment. “The best creative ideas come when you can sort of hold hands and take the creative risk together, and sometimes the adversarial [nature] of the relationship stops that happening,” Mahon said.

Five months into running the advertiser-funded pubcaster, Mahon said linear TV has a unique ability to build brands, but needs to adapt as the digital players have changed consumer tastes and viewing habits. “The question is, before we move to a fully digital environment, how do we use those linear assets to keep building brands and how do we invest more in technology to get our platforms up to standard?” Mahon said.

“We are in that transition period, and on my watch we’ll go through that transition,” she added. “Technology platforms have changed consumer relationships. Twitter has changed the length of time of a video or text a consumer will get involved in. YouTube has changed the quality of production values people will accept. Netflix has change the emotional connection people have with content.”

In that environment, being distinctive and relevant is crucial. “The concept of distinctiveness in a post-Netflix world is more important than ever, and for us that’s got to be as well, with the concept of relevance,” Mahon said. “It’s ‘Why are you relevant anymore, why does the audience need you, what do you provide to the market that others don’t?’ That comes for us from taking new creative risk, and breaking new talent, and ensuring we represent everyone in the U.K.”

More TV

  • Desus and Mero

    Desus & Mero Are Doing Late-Night Their Own Way

    It wasn’t too long ago that Desus Nice and The Kid Mero were living their lives as Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez, two bored Bronx guys throwing jokes on Twitter about their frustrating jobs. But six years after joining forces, they’re poised to crash the overwhelmingly monochrome late-night talk-show party with their wicked wit, supreme [...]

  • Norah O'Donnell

    CBS Mulls Changes to 'CBS Evening News,' Eyes Norah O'Donnell for Anchor Slot (EXCLUSIVE)

    CBS News is considering making significant changes to its flagship “CBS Evening News,” according to four people with knowledge of the talks, part of a top-down look at the news division by incoming president Susan Zirinsky. Executives are considering putting “CBS This Morning” anchor Norah O’Donnell in the lead role of its evening-news broadcast, these [...]

  • Lena Waithe-Produced Comedy Scores Pilot Order

    Lena Waithe-Produced Comedy Scores Pilot Order from Showtime

    Showtime has ordered a pilot for “How to Make Love to a Black Woman (Who May Be Working Through Some Sh*t), a half-hour comedy anthology series created by Casallina “Cathy” Kisakye. The show landed at the network through Emmy winner Lena Waithe’s first-look deal with Showtime. Kisakye, who will write the pilot, joins Waithe and [...]

  • Rainn Wilson SoulPancake

    Rainn Wilson Joins Amazon Series 'Utopia'

    Rainn Wilson has been cast in a lead role in the upcoming Amazon series “Utopia.” Based on the British series of the same name created by Dennis Kelly, “Utopia” follows group of young adults who meet online and are mercilessly hunted by a shadowy deep state organization after they come in to possession of a [...]

  • The-Daily-Show-With-Trevor-Noah

    Viacom Inks Deal With FuboTV Streaming Service

    Viacom reached a distribution deal with FuboTV, which will soon add an array of the conglomerate’s networks — including Comedy Central, BET, MTV and Nickelodeon — to its live TV internet streaming service. Viacom is now on four “virtual pay-TV” platforms: Dish Network’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Philo and FuboTV. Viacom remains absent from [...]

  • Weather Channel Taps NBCUniversal, Nexstar Alum

    Weather Channel Taps NBCUniversal, Nexstar Alum Tom O'Brien as President

    Byron Allen has turned to NBCUniversal and Nexstar alum Tom O’Brien to serve as president of the Weather Channel, the cable stalwart that Allen’s Entertainment Studios acquired for $300 million last March. O’Brien replaces Dave Shull, who left the company in October after serving as president-CEO of the Atlanta-based company since 2016. O’Brien will oversee [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content