Ex-C4 CEO David Abraham: National broadcasters have a 'natural advantage' over streaming

Ex-C4 CEO: National broadcasters have a ‘natural advantage’ over streaming
Abraham: Mr Bates v The Post Office is 'brilliant reminder of the power of national television'
The Media Leader Podcast

People primarily like to watch TV programming about their own communities, giving national broadcasters a “natural advantage” over global streaming platforms, Channel 4’s former CEO insists.

David Abraham, who ran Channel 4 until 2017 and went on to launch production company and ad agency Wonderhood Studios, spoke to The Media Leader at The Future of Brands last month about ad-funded programming, the future of broadcasting and what’s next for  “the big idea” in marketing as audiences fragment across different online media environments.

Listen to an excerpt or read an edited transcript below:



The Media Leader: On Channel 4, you must be watching with great interest in what’s happening at your old company. And, obviously, you’ve got skin in the game as an independent production company. They’ve all but ceased commissioning new stuff until 2025. How concerned are you about the state of Channel 4?  Lord Grade, one of your predecessors and now chair of Ofcom, described it as a “corner shop” competing against global supermarket chains. How do you see the challenge for Channel 4 going forward?

David Abraham: Look, clearly I believe in creative originality, and creating hits and doing things differently. And I think that we should never underestimate this country’s ability to produce really valuable IP that can be exported around the world, which was one of the main purposes of Channel 4 from a business perspective — that it created opportunities for independent producers to create IP.

It can and is still doing that, but it is definitely harder. And funnily enough, my one observation would be that when you’re running a network, you have to place your bets in a very strategic way and you have to market your content in a way that has real conviction and impact.

The whole media industry needs Channel 4 because it is an environment in which we can innovate and try new things. There’s no doubt about it — with good ideas and good marketing, Channel 4 can continue to thrive.

And, by the way, it’s also a very important independent news provider. It’s a very important and powerful and Oscar-winning developer of British independent movies as well.

So, for cultural reasons as well as business reasons, I think it remains a force to be reckoned with.

The Media Leader: But does the remit need to change to make it more commercially viable?

Abraham: Well, [there] are debates going on at the moment as to whether or not they should be given the freedom to produce more of its own programmes, which it never has done before. That’s an interesting, interesting one.

The Media Leader: And should it be allowed to?

Abraham: My own view is that the independent sector is a good provider to Channel 4 currently.

The Media Leader: And what would David Abraham say, if he was still running Channel 4?

Abraham: I probably would say that as well. Look, when I was there, our big focus was on generating big hits, being aggressive on building new franchises like Formula One and getting [The Great British] Bake Off, which we did towards the end, but we had to rebuild the schedule post-Big Brother.

Big Brother had been on the network for 10 years. Our challenge going back to 2010 was: how do you build a new range of hits? Over a number of years, we did rebuild the schedule quite successfully and maintained the creative quality.

There’s no doubt about it, there is more competition now. But, on the other hand, it’s still the case across the world that people primarily like to watch television about their own communities, their own countries, their own environments. And so the BBC, Channel 4, ITV have a natural advantage.

If you just look at, for example, the impact of the Post Office drama [ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office] on British politics recently. It’s a brilliant reminder of the power of national television in a democratic society to stimulate progress and also for a country to do the right thing.

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The Media Leader Podcast is a twice weekly show in which our journalists interview some of the most influential people in advertising and media, as well as the next generation of future leaders and rising stars. We also review the biggest stories in media and discuss our featured columnists’ latest opinion pieces.

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