Channel 4 will increase its budget “massively” next year as the UK ad-supported broadcaster rebounds following Covid-19, according to CEO Alex Mahon.
C4 has been widely seen as the broadcaster hardest hit by the pandemic over the past six months because it is only supported by advertising spend, which was slashed as the virus hit.
Speaking to the RTS Digital Convention 2020, Mahon said the programme budget – which was reduced by £150m ($190m) earlier this year – “will go up massively next year because we had to cut it so much this year.”
However, Mahon declined to confirm that the full amount would be returned, telling interviewer Tim Hincks – co-CEO of UK prodco Expectation – that it depended on the ad market. “But it will definitely go up massively in 2021 compared to 2020,” she added.
Mahon admitted that things had got “pretty bad” at C4 during the early days of the pandemic, with the broadcaster using a £75m ($92m) emergency credit facility and furloughing staff, as well as cutting budgets.
She added that the ad market had rebounded and pointed to improved viewing figures at C4, which have helped the broadcaster return to an even keel.
The former Shine CEO added that a “concertina effect” would also affect spending plans for next year, with shows delayed because of the virus. The aim, however, is to get programme tariffs back to “normal rates” as soon as possible, she added.
Mahon said the flexibility and ingenuity of indies had helped the broadcaster survive and said lessons had been learned about producing content cheaply and making decisions quickly.
However she said “bargain basement” programming was not on the agenda, because it could not compete against premium content from streamers such as Disney+ and Netflix.
Repeats had been working well though, she added, while also pointing to her pride in the way C4 had responded to the pandemic from a programming point of view with shows such as Jamie: Keep Cooking And Carry On and Grayson’s Art Club.
“It was clear to us we should be saying something back to Britain, doing the opposite of what the SVOD’s were doing,” she said.
Mahon pointed out that Netflix docuseries Tiger King, which became a lockdown hit, “is not saying anything about being British.” The C4 CEO said she had watched the show, adding that it was a “long eight hours.”
Competition with the streamers remains tough, Mahon said, admitting that her organisation could not “compete at the £100m for a season budget, unless some miracle is happening.”
However, she said C4 “can compete on new writers, new directors and new work,” highlighting series such as Russel T Davies AIDS drama Boys and Adult Material.
“I don’t think the streamers would make them,” she said, adding that there is “space” for C4’s drama offering. “But it’s not easy to compete, for sure.”