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Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon has hailed the ‘geo-leveller effect’ of Zoom pitching as a key factor in the broadcaster’s efforts to better represent the whole of the UK.

In an online interview for the RTS Digital Convention, Mahon said she had had positive feedback from indies that no longer had to take long journeys to London and wait in receptions for an audience with a commissioner.

“When indies have had access to us through Zoom, you get your time slot and you get exactly the same access wherever you are,” she said. “It’s the geo-leveller effect. You don’t think, ‘all those people are hanging out in London or Soho House or whatever’ – it’s much more democratic and people turn up on time and leave on time.”

Mahon said that with five sites now operational across the UK, all C4 editorial or commissioning discussions have at least one figure from outside of London in the meeting. “We’ve changed how we make those creative decisions and it changes the flavour of what we’re making,” she said.

Similarly, she said, C4 has become much more “location-agnostic” about its own workforce, with much more consideration now put into which jobs need to be in a specific location. The broadcaster is also looking into the future of its workspaces as working from home becomes more common.

In research, she said the audience thought C4 was representing the UK better than ever, which she attributed to the broadcaster being “super-responsive” in lockdown with domestic shows with practical messages such as Grayson’s Art Club and Jamie’s Keep Cooking and Carrying On.

When asked how they feel watching C4 as opposed to streaming rivals, audiences felt it helped them feel part of Britain and connected to other people, she said.

“That’s very different to the escapism that Netflix provided … Tiger King told you nothing about what we face as a nation and is certainly not about bringing us together to face an unseen enemy.”

Budgets set to rise

Mahon said programme budgets will increase “massively” next year after C4 slashed them by £150m in 2020, though she could not promise that they would return to previous levels.

“We don’t know what ad market will do yet,” she said. “There’s a concertina effect too as shows have been delayed. But we’ve got to get tariffs back to normal rate. We can’t survive, and nor can indies, with tariffs being low.

“It has taught us some things about producing on a lower budget and faster decisions but I don’t think you can compete with Netflix, Amazon or Disney by making things cheaper. That’s not the quality viewers demand and not what producers can make.”

Acknowledging that public service broadcasters cannot compete with SVoD budgets, she said it was important to differentiate in terms of distinctively British content – new writers and new “important work about being British”, citing upcoming dramas The Boys, from Russell T Davies, and Adult Material by Lucy Kirkwood.


Meanwhile, Mahon said there is “definitely structural racism and structural sexism” in TV and said she had introduced a dashboard for managers to report monthly on the diversity of their teams.

C4 has a target of 20% BAME representation among its top 100 earners and is now at 14%.

“What’s great about C4 is it’s the only place diversity is written into the remit,” she said. “My job is to make sure there’s a really strong field of people who could run the organisation after me.”

Now C4 is looking more widely at its supplier base, which presenting fresh challenges. “How many producers have BAME decision makers/controllers? It’s not easy to make that change because you’ve got to have difficult conversations.”

C4’s ‘Black Takeover’ day scheduled for 2021 is not about the day itself, she said, but the changes that will have to happen to get to that day – and to launch new series. “The crew lists, the heads of department – that’s years to make work. We haven’t made enough change in changing attitudes and mindsets.”

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