In a conversation with Variety international editor Manori Ravindran at the ongoing Edinburgh TV Festival on Tuesday, Katz talked up the successful programming strategy of Channel 4, including “It’s A Sin” and the upcoming disability themed “Help” and said that a purely profit driven channel would be a very “different beast” to the “special” channel that people know now.
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A possible solution to retain the channel’s public service remit would be to write license requirements that would keep everything that is valued about it.
“I think what that approach misses is the fundamental change that you get in an organization, when you move from an organization that is purpose driven to an organization that is essentially profit driven, something profound and fundamental happens when you make that shift,” Katz said.
A move to a profit driven organization would lead everyone wanting to maximize profits, Katz said. “And inevitably, what then happens is the remit, the license requirements become a sort of albatross around your neck,” Katz said. “And inevitably, any purely commercially driven organization will begin to argue for a weakening of those license requirements. We’ve seen that again and again, in commercial television. And I think it’s a bit like the frog in the frying pan. Over time, inevitably, the essence, what’s really special about the channel, I think, would be destroyed.”
The remit itself is increasingly fuzzy and Katz admitted that it is open to interpretation, but he said that the channel interpreted it in a much more demanding way than what is required by U.K. media regulator Ofcom and the government.
“What’s really good and healthy about this debate about privatization is the way in which is causing people to discuss and think about and argue over what Channel 4 is for and whether we’re doing what we’re there for,” said Katz. “And I welcome that debate, and we are listening to it very receptively. And I think we should be having a debate about what Channel 4 should do and should look like – we are absolutely not stuck in a trench. And Channel 4 should never be saying the way we are is the way we should be. We’ve always been about change.”
Katz also revealed that a further £24 million ($33.2 million) has been added to the Channel 4 content budget in addition to the £60 million already committed.
Addressing the growing investment of streamers like Netflix in U.K. content, Katz said that as a global company with a global audience, they would have to find shows that would work in multiple territories. “They’re never going to be interested in the absolute, gritty detail or granularity of stories that are really located in place and about our lives, about Britain,” Katz said. The executive pointed to Netflix’s U.K.-produced “Sex Education,” which is “deliberately set in a geographical no man’s land” and contrasted it to Channel 4’s “deeply rooted” shows.
At the Edinburgh TV Festival on Monday, top Netflix content executives Anne Mensah and Fiona Lamptey discussed a “U.K. out” approach to local programming where the focus was on serving U.K. subscribers first, but with a global outlook. Citing the example of “The End of the F***ing World,” which began life at Channel 4 and was a global success on Netflix, Katz said, “There are shows that that they will often come into of that sort – but typically only once a broadcaster like Channel 4 has got it off the ground and built it to a place where where they feel safe with it.”
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