The chief executive of British public service broadcaster Channel 4 has said “risky” shows such as “Derry Girls,” “It’s a Sin” and “Gogglebox” would probably have not been commissioned if the network was privately-owned.
The broadcaster is also considering taking its local streaming service All4 “global,” it has revealed.
Channel 4 CEO Dr Alex Mahon (pictured above at a committee hearing in 2019) was attending an evidence session in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on Tuesday morning (July 12) in London about the potential privatization of the network when she made the comments. The U.K.’s secretary of state for DCMS, Nadine Dorries, has outlined her plans to sell Channel 4 although these are now up in the air following the resignation of prime minister Boris Johnson.
Drawing on her previous experience at other, private companies, Mahon said that were Channel 4 to be privatized she would “change the commissioning strategy, the kinds of programs we buy, in order to de-risk it. So that would mean I wouldn’t do the creative innovation anymore. It would mean on television you wouldn’t see things like the Paralympics, you wouldn’t have seen things like ‘Derry Girls’ or ‘It’s a Sin’ or even ‘Gogglebox.'”
When probed by surprised members of the committee why that was, given the success of those shows, Mahon replied that the creators of those show “have gone on record saying that no one else would have bought those shows. ‘Derry Girls’ has turned out to be a huge hit. Wonderful. If you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t sound great because it’s a 1990s comedy about young girls growing up in [Derry]. I mean, no one would have thought that that would be really popular. It’s a very, very risky show to me. And that goes for many of the shows that subsequently become popular with the public.”
Mahon expanded the point later during questioning, when she explained: “I think delivering the remit whilst optimizing for profit is very hard. It’s very hard because that sort of innovation distinctiveness is hard to do while seeking to maximise for profit and because it involves taking significant creative risk: significant risk on new talent, significant risk on sorts of diverse topics, significant risk on things that might not work, which we are very motivated to do.”
“So a simple example would be the Paralympics,” she continued. “We know evidentially that other commercial broadcasters did not bid for the Paralympics when Channel 4 did. I know from us producing and putting on the Paralympics, that it’s expensive to do. We believe it to be very important work. […] They don’t make money, but they are very important things to do. And you could apply that to a whole list of other shows we do from you know, Peter Kosminsky’s recent [show], The undeclared war, to Dispatches [programs] about Ukraine and life under attack. These are things we do that you would not do if you were commercially optimising.”
When asked about Channel 4’s financial sustainability, Mahon said: “I think it’s fair to say that Channel 4 is in the strongest financial health it’s ever been in. It does not need help financially it does not need fixing.”
“We’re spending on programming this year I think than we’ve ever spent,” Mahon said later during the questioning. “It is a competitive market, absolutely. But of course we deliver a very different thing to an Amazon or a Netflix or a U.S.-based streamer business. We deliver free content funded by advertising to British audiences and our incentive is to maximise the return to the British people culturally and economically […] and then to have an impact on the skills agenda, on the levelling up agenda, on support for small businesses. That’s a very different thing to competing as a global streamer.”
Meanwhile the broadcaster’s chief operating officer Jonathan Allan set out the digital strategy which includes potentially expanding Channel 4 streaming app All4 worldwide. “We’re looking at taking All4 globally as part of that diversification plan,” he told the committee.
There was also a lengthy discussion of Channel 4’s 2010 docu-series “Tower Block of Commons” in which four members of parliament – including Nadine Dorries – were tasked with living with families in some of the country’s most deprived areas. In May, Dorries told the DCMS Committee that some of the participants in the show, which was made by Love Productions, were actors.
During the DCMS Committee session on Tuesday morning Mahon said Channel 4 were currently investigating Dorries’ claim and planned to put out a report either this week or next. But Mahon stated: “I’ve seen no indications of fakery in what I’ve seen so far.”