MIPFormats ’18: C4′s Alex Mahon on diversity, risk and relevance

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon took the stage at the Palais des Festivals on Saturday afternoon (April 7) to participate in a keynote conversation during the first day of sessions at ...
April 8, 2018

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon took the stage at the Palais des Festivals on Saturday afternoon (April 7) to participate in a keynote conversation during the first day of sessions at MIPFormats in Cannes.

Moderated by Gary Carter, non-executive director of the Finnish creative content agency KLOK, Mahon candidly discussed her vision for Channel 4, the need for diversity and inclusion, and the importance of risk taking.

There has been increasing concern in the television and film industries about the representation of diverse audiences in creative content, and behind the scenes.

Mahon, named to the top post at C4 last summer, has been pushing to make the British pubcaster a beacon of inclusion across the board and outside of the entertainment industry.

To run a creative business, Mahon said, “You need to have a room of people with different backgrounds and different points of view, because that’s what will get you the best creative output.” Secondly, that creative company has to have a culture of honesty to encourage open discussions without fear or retribution

“You get diversity of input and ideas, and you get a better creative product out of that,” Mahon added. “To get the best content, you need to work hand in hand with producers. You have to be clear about what you want.

“If you have creative success, commercial success follows.”

According to some quarters, however, the non-scripted industry has seen a dearth of innovative programming in favor of the “big getting bigger”.

Broadcasters in recent years have been perceived as playing it safe with their commissioning, favoring instead to funnel more and more money to support ratings successes like Channel 4′s The Great British Bake Off, which has splintered myriad spin-offs. The reason, Mahon says, is because they’re seen as more established and operate as “beacons in a programming schedule.”

But with an industry tendency to eschew risk, programs aren’t given the opportunity to flourish before they’re abandoned.

“The answer to that is to open up the risk windows in scheduling, so a risk can be taken,” Mahon explained. “To do it enough, repeatedly, at scale so there isn’t the inherent fear locked into every individual show and to encourage [an] environment where you can be open about things and you can try ideas without diluting everything by ‘de-risking’ every element of them.”

For Channel 4, Mahon says the core of its future success will hinge on moving back to its remit of innovation, risk-taking and breaking new talent while also representing diversity.

It’s also about commissioners working hand-in-hand with the production community and ensuring that the messages regarding commissioning are clear and distinct.

“The concept of distinctiveness, in a post-Netflix world, is more important than ever,” Mahon explained. “For all of us as linear broadcasters, it’s got to work as well with the concept of relevance. If you start with that, then success follows.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.