Viacom International Media Networks’ UK director of programs Ben Frow has spoken to BBC Radio 4 about how he is navigating the British free-to-air network Channel 5 and his wider portfolio through the coronavirus pandemic.
Frow, who was promoted to the group role last year after running Channel 5 since 2013, told The Media Show that the crisis — which has shut down most TV production and ravaged advertising revenue — has brought about “the most creatively challenging time we have ever had as a broadcaster.”
He said Channel 5 is not as exposed as some broadcasters, given it is heavily stocked with factual programming and is less reliant on drama, but still has “big issues” and must now “dig really deep” to deliver for audiences. “In a way, we were sort of born for this Channel 5. We’re a scrappy bunch of people,” Frow said.
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He pointed to Channel 5’s flexibility around scheduling and its commitment to fast-turnaround storytelling. “This is what we do. This is just a bigger crisis than we are used to,” he said, adding: “I would hate for us to fall behind the SVODs because we were unable to function.”
In the week following Channel 4 announcing plans to slash its content budget by £150M ($188M) after its ad revenue was cut in half by coronavirus, Frow was asked if having the backing of ViacomCBS is helpful.
“It certainly does offer protection, only last week I was particularly grateful to be owned by Viacom,” he said. “They’ve obviously got a very big global footprint… The best way I can help VicaomCBS through what we’re all going through at moment is to put my nose to the grindstone, look across my portfolio and go: ‘Are we being the best we can be?'”
Frow, who used the wide-ranging interview to reflect on his achievements in moving Channel 5 upmarket and helping it win awards, was also asked about his future in the industry. He was promoted last year to take on MTV and Comedy Central and said the channels are ripe for “great creative journey” in the UK.
He added that he is not looking for a challenge beyond ViacomCBS right now. “I have not been offered or even approached or even hinted at another job in the seven years I’ve been at Channel 5. No-one has ever called me, no headhunter has ever emailed. And it’s cool, I love the job I do,” Frow said. “One day maybe I will get a call, but I’m not looking for one.”
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