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INTV: C4 is keeping up with Facebook – CEO

Channel 4 now has 15 million registered All4 users and can compete with the likes of YouTube and Facebook in terms of online video viewing and ad revenues, David Abraham told delegates at the ongoing INTV conference in Israel.

David AbrahamThe UK broadcaster’s CEO told TBI that as it focuses on digital this year it plans to further personalise and add to the All4 on-demand service.

“If you’ve got a strong brand, high quality content and what we call ‘first-party data’, [you] have a strong platform to compete with Facebook, which doesn’t have the high-quality content, or YouTube, which is mostly a lot of clutter and user-generated content,” he said.

The Channel 4 boss said All4 now has 15 million users – and half of all 16-to-34s in the UK – and efforts to drive more personalisation in its online offering will continue this year.

“The [TV] world will get more complex as people fight for direct relationship with the viewer,” he said. “The TV network without a data strategy is like a sub without sonar: you cannot survive without a direct relationship.”

The advertising-funded pubcaster generated a 30% uptick in digital revenues of £100 million last year, out of a total of £979 million (US$122 million).

Requiring viewers to sign up to All4 has been crucial to the platform’s progress, said Abraham. “Critically that allows us to start to personalise the experience,” he said. “It also allows us to personalise and adapt the advertising proposition, which means low-wastage, high-yield [ads]; and it allows us to sell our online viewing at a comp price versus YouTube.”

Abraham went on to talk about Channel 4’s programming strategy, speaking about Black Mirror, which it lost to Netflix, and The Great British Bake Off, which it wrested from the BBC in controversial circumstances.

He said that Black Mirror, new seasons of which have moved to Netflix, was an example of Channel 4 doing its job. “It was a risky show when it went on air,” he said. “Netflix wanted to go large on it and we would have preferred to coproduce the episodes [with Netflix],” he said. “In the end, for us it was an example of what we’re meant to do, which is breaking new ideas and moving onto the next thing.”

Bake Off, meanwhile, is a show that will generate considerable ad revenue, in turn allowing Channel 4 to invest more in programming, Abraham said, despite the reported £75 million down payment to secure the rights from Love Productions.

“Channel 4 has to make a profit to pay for the investigative journalism or genre comedy, which in the UK is a genre no commercial station can sustain, but is important to our culture.

“We look at parts of our schedule that have to be commercially optimised, and we must do that to pay for all of the programming we are required to make.

“It’s a cross-subsidy model and requires a daily set of decisions to trade off. Damn right if we can get The Bake Off – it’s the biggest show on TV and we can put it on a commercial channel, generate strong sponsorship and advertising revenues, and that can pay for other content – that is the model of sustainability.”

He added that he wants success spread across programmes on Channel 4 and would not concentrate on one show, as had happened with Big Brother, which now airs on Channel 5. “We should never cling on forever to hits,” Abraham told INTV delegates.

“Effectively my first year of Channel 4 was dealing with the fact we’d clung onto Big Brother for a decade. We had become hugely reliant on it and I’d rather have ten shows doing two or three million in different genres than one show that is the monster that has taken over the entire channel.”