Channel 4 Warns Of “Television Turning Point” As Revenues Fall With Drama & Film Budgets Hit


British broadcaster Channel 4 has warned that television “finds itself at a turning point” against strong SVOD competition as revenues fell in 2017 and investment in original drama and film was reduced.

The broadcaster reported revenues were down from £995M (US$1.3B) to £960M in 2017 with total content spend also falling from £695M to £675M, admittedly its second highest level ever. However, investment in original British content grew from £501M to £510M.

C4’s drama budget fell by 4% from £91M to £87M, largely as a result of the cancellation of Julie Walters-fronted period drama Indian Summers, while entertainment spend was down 17% from £103M to £86M as a result of the cancellation of Deal or No Deal. Film acquisitions, across channels including C4 and Film4, also fell by 12% from £92M to £81M over the twelve-month period. However, Film4’s originals budget has remained at £25M and it currently has films including Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, Steve McQueen’s Widows and Lenny Abrahamson’s forthcoming adaptation of Sarah Waters’ wartime ghost story The Little Stranger in production.

CEO Alex Mahon said, “In the last five years, the media landscape has changed dramatically, threatening the status quo for established broadcasters such as ourselves. Digital giants are funding billions worth of content per year. We are now competing not only for content, but also for talent, for viewers and for revenue. This is also against a backdrop of immense technological change and how people, particularly young people, are consuming media – on demand and increasingly on multiple devices.”

To offset this, the broadcaster has increased the number of international co-productions. It highlighted titles such as Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, co-produced with Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures, and The End of the F***ing World, co-produced with Netflix, with the SVOD service also partnering on documentary Trump: An American Dream. “Co-productions 2017 saw a rise in the number of programmes that were coproduced with partners, a key part of our content strategy as budgets in genres such as drama are rising,” the broadcaster noted. “For platforms looking to appeal to similar demographics to our audiences, Channel 4’s taste palate and experience is attractive. For us, these partnerships enable us to bring larger-scale and ambitious productions to our audiences.”

One positive across the year was the success of its digital platforms All4 and foreign-language service Walter Presents. All4, which this morning revealed a partnership with Vice, now has 16.6M registered users, a 16% increase in 2017. C4 will plan to launch new “curated” channels in addition to Walter Presents “mining Channel 4’s 35-year library of programmes and featuring new handpicked acquisitions to create collections of the very best must-watch programmes”.

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