Channel 4’s Ian Katz eyes brand-funded shows to deal with ‘very tight budgets’

The Great British Bake-Off

The UK’s Channel 4 is looking to expand its brand-funded programming output as it attempts to deal with the devastating effect of Covid-19 on its finances.

Earlier this month, the broadcaster revealed almost £250m ($310m) of cost-cutting measures to deal with the advertising slump brought about by Covid-19, with £150m slashed from its programming budget. The operator relies heavily on ads and admitted that it expected revenues to be down by 50% over April and May.

As a result, C4 has slashed back spending and programming director Ian Katz, speaking on the controller session organised by the Edinburgh TV Festival, said he was “absolutely” looking for more brand-funded opportunities.

Ian Katz

“One of the things we have to do is be creative about how we fund content,” he said.

“We have made a few brand-funded commissions in the last week or two and it will be very interesting to see how advertisers react to the challenges they face in their own businesses and whether brand-funded programming is a more creative way of using some of their spend. We are definitely in the market to do more.”

Lower tariffs & tight budgets

Katz underlined the broadcaster’s financial restrictions by confirming that drama commissions had been paused, following the decision to furlough its scripted teams.

Spending for the remainder of the year would come in at around £10m, Katz said, but he added that C4 would be “very much open for business next year” and had kept development spending in place this year “so we can spring out of the traps.”

“The reality is we’re making TV on lower tariffs than ever before,” he continued, adding that the broadcaster would be looking for low cost shows but also “making sure we have the ability to take big swings on ambitious shows that cost more.”

Katz added that the broadcaster understood that with lower tariffs would come lower expectations on elements of the shows commissioned, such as the number of days in edit. He added that it didn’t mean C4 expects indies to pay unfair wages to staff, “and we are very clear about that.”

Praise & reflection

In a wide-ranging discussion, Katz praised Channel 5 boss Ben Frow for his company’s moves into lower cost drama – something the C4 exec said he was also exploring – and the BBC’s coverage of the virus.

He added that viewing figures had soared over recent weeks, with 20 shows securing more than four million viewers since the pandemic struck, versus “about five or six shows this time last year”. Culinary competition shows Bake Off and Gogglebox were among key series, he added, offering “familiar and comforting” viewing.

Katz said C4 was in the process of putting together genre-focused briefs for programming requirements but pointed to a three-pronged strategy involving shows that capture the impact of the crisis, helping people get through lockdown, and latterly “restocking the schedule” with programming that is “helpful to people, whether that’s around finances or jobs or getting businesses back up and running.”

Quizzing around, drama & Snoop Dogs

The programming boss said there were no plans to bring Big Brother back but said he was “actively looking for new quiz ideas”, which could run in daytime but also early peak.

Katz also underlined the likely ongoing difficulties of producing drama and said that over the next six to nine months “there are going to be very tight limitations on what is produceable.” That will mean more reliance on factual, with “lots of archive” shows, some of which are in the works for the autumn, he added.

The broadcaster also revealed Snoop Dogs, a property show that is being produced by Northern Irish indie prodco Stellify Media and is being filmed by celebrity’s canine companions.

The innovative 4 x 30-minute series will utilise footage captured by the pets, with the four-legged filmmakers each fitted with Go-Pro cameras to give a dogs-eye perspective of the homes of famous faces.

The identities of the celebrities are kept a secret until the end of each episode, allowing the viewers to play along and guess who the homeowner could be.

Sean Doyle, deputy head of features and formats at Channel 4, said: “I didn’t want lockdown to stifle creative conversations and Snoop Dogs is a perfect example of a reactive and outside of the box commission.

“We’ve come up a wonderfully ridiculous spin on filming in lockdown that only Channel 4 could get away with. We hope families enjoy playing along whilst getting a healthy dose of doggy mischief and celebrities’ lush properties and home interiors.”

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