Channel 4 Content Boss Addresses Commissioning Slowdown Following Bectu’s “Emergency” Declaration

Channel 4 Content Boss Addresses Commissioning Slowdown Following Bectu’s “Emergency” Declaration

Channel 4’s Ian Katz has become the first broadcasting boss to acknowledge the UK commissioning slowdown, which led Bectu to yesterday declare an “emergency” in the freelance TV community.

Katz told the Wales Screen Summit Channel 4 is “watching to see how the market plays out,” while he is speaking to indies about the “freelancer situation.”

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The cost-of-living crisis has been causing a well-publicized slowdown in the advertising market and Katz noted this could decline by 10% to 20% over the coming months, with ITV last week issuing a trading update showing a 10% dip in Q1.

Channel 4 is helped by the fact that “we came out of Covid and commissioned quite fast, quite intentionally because the cupboards were very empty,” according to Katz, who said “we are well stocked [with shows] into this year and the first half of next year.”

Compounding the current freelancer situation, last year saw a post-Covid commissioning boom, with the freelance community virtually at full tilt. Yesterday’s declaration of a Bectu “emergency” came with the union saying there is an “unprecedented” lack of work for freelancers in unscripted, some of whom say they haven’t been working since January.

“We are talking to suppliers about the freelance situation so we understand where it is,” said Katz. “But no one has a crystal ball. In many ways the wider economy is healthier than many people expected at the backend of last year but I’m very alive to the challenges the general slowdown is bringing across the board.”

Deadline has spoken with several producers in the past few days who believed that Channel 4 had brought in a virtual commissioning freeze that would continue over the coming weeks, placing the blame at the foot of the declining ad market and recent big-budget primetime bets such as 18-part entertainment show Rise and Fall, along with the likes of Scared of the Dark.

While Channel 4 insists no such freeze is in place, the network is undoubtedly being choosier about commissions, along with its commercial broadcasting rivals ITV and Channel 5. The BBC is not impacted by the ad market slowdown but the license fee freeze has also caused it to feel the pinch, and Director General Tim Davie has instilled a “fewer, bigger, better” approach. Comcast-owned Sky, meanwhile, is also approaching the market cautiously and via “fewer, bigger better,” according to content boss Zai Bennett, who took part in an RTS Q&A last night.

“Picture Postcard” Criticism

Elsewhere, Katz criticized broadcasters, including his own, for too often “defaulting” to “clichéd, picture postcard” depictions of the UK.

Following the success of Birmingham-based BAFTA-winner Late Night Lycett, Katz said his team is “thinking hard about the way in which our shows represent different parts of the country, differentiating between representation where place is at the heart of the program and what we call incidental representation.”

“We want both, and we want less of the clichéd, picture postcard representation that all broadcasters including Channel 4 have often been guilty of defaulting to,” he said.

In Late Night Lycett, comedian Joe Lycett, who famously took on David Beckham by pretending to burn £10,000 ($12,500) in protest at the footballer’s Qatar World Cup partnership, has “done more to change perceptions of Birmingham than anyone beyond [Peaky Blinders] star Cillian Murphy,” added Katz. The show won the BAFTA for Best Feature on Sunday, in what was Channel 4’s record BAFTA haul for 22 years. Katz said the shows that had won “would not have been made by any other streamer or broadcaster.”

Speaking from the Cardiff event, Katz said he is now seeking a similar well-depicted show from Wales, which could do for the nation what Steph’s Packed Lunch has done for Leeds or Scotland: Escape to the Wilderness has done for Scotland.

Katz also revealed that next year’s coverage of the Paris Paralympics will be produced from Wales by established Sony-backed Paralympics producer Whisper, which will see around 200 staff from the region working across the coverage.

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