Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon has said that the British broadcaster’s content spend will “go up massively” next year to help it compete with U.S. streamers, but she stopped short of committing to restore all of the £150M ($193M) taken out of the budget.
In a Royal Television Society Digital Convention 2020 interview, the former Shine executive admitted that things got “pretty bad” for Channel 4 at the height of the pandemic. The broadcaster’s ad revenue was slashed in half, forcing it to cut £150M from its content budget, furlough 100 staff and draw down on a £75M emergency credit facility.
Since April, Mahon said the picture has improved, advertisers have returned and Channel 4’s ratings performance has been “really good,” with its audience share edging up 2%. “The market is way better than the worst-case we planned for,” she added.
Against this backdrop, Mahon said producers can expect content budgets to improve going into 2021. This is essential, she said, to ensuring the production sector survives the pandemic and that Channel 4 competes with streamers like Netflix, which have piled on subscribers in recent months.
“The program budget will go up massively next year because we had to cut it so much this year. We took £150M out this year — it’s not clear yet how much of it goes back in because we don’t really know what the advertising market will do, but it definitely goes up massively in 2021 compared to 2020,” Mahon explained.
“There’s also a bit of a concertina effect because there are things that have been delayed into next year, so it’s that that we’ve got to work out, and then we’ve got to get tariffs back to normal rates. We can’t, and neither can indies, survive with tariffs being low… I don’t think you can compete in a Netflix world or an Amazon Prime world or a Disney+ world by just making everything cheaper, that’s not realistic because that’s not the quality viewers demand and it’s not the option that producers have. We can’t compete by making everything bargain basement.”
Asked specifically if Channel 4 is getting muscled out of high-end drama by the streamers, Mahon admitted: “We can’t compete at the £100M for a series budget. Not unless some miracle is happening.” She added, however, that Channel 4 will partner with others on series — like it did with Netflix on the BAFTA-winning The End Of The F***ing World — and it has an advantage in finding new British writing and directing talent.