People/Biz

Edinburgh ’20: Channel 4′s Ian Katz on diversity, ramping up production

Channel 4′s director of programs Ian Katz has revealed that the British pubcaster is to hold a “Black Takeover Day” as part of its enduring effort to improve ethnic minority representation on- and off-screen. Laying bare ...
August 27, 2020

Channel 4′s director of programs Ian Katz has revealed that the British pubcaster is to hold a “Black Takeover Day” as part of its enduring effort to improve ethnic minority representation on- and off-screen.

Laying bare the broadcaster’s business strategy moving forward, Katz explained during a controller session at Edinburgh’s Television Festival that the initiative will feature a programming roster entirely led by Black talent and contributors.

From morning to midnight, the day will allow Channel 4 to provide a streamlined focus to “all of our efforts around driving representation.” As a result, the network’s flagship scripted and non-scripted programs – including Celebrity Gogglebox and Countdown – on the tentatively titled Black Takeover Day will all be presented by and starring Black talent.

“We are also looking for an ambitious unscripted primetime series providing an authentic look at Black lives on screen to launch on the day, as well as a new one-off late-night live topical discussion show,” Katz told the virtual festival audience.

He continued: “We’ll launch new programs that will stay beyond the day, and we are working to design a whole set of off-screen goals and commitments so that there’s a really lasting legacy for the day.”

The broadcaster has consulted with the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity to help shape what he regards as the channel’s “ambitious and meaningful” off-screen talent commitments and further ensure it is addressing specific issues in the industry.

Black Takeover Day was conceived by commissioning editors Vivienne Molokwu and Shaminder Nahal, and will be led by C4′s Kelly Webb-Lamb, deputy director of programs. Babita Bahal, head of creative diversity, will oversee on- and off-screen commitments alongside Emma Hardy, head of commissioning management.

The takeover is expected to launch next year to mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The day will also lead into Black History Month.

Representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities is a “particularly burning issue” at Channel 4, Katz noted, as the pubcaster was largely established to ensure representation for under-represented voices.

“On screen, we monitor all our top shows and representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people,” said Katz. “We look at our own commissioning team where representation is above the national average.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of years at how we serve diverse audiences better; we’ve conducted very detailed research about what our diverse audiences want to see,” he added. “As a result, we’re seeing the strongest ethnic minority viewing figures that we’ve had in years.”

Despite the progressive strides made, Katz is acutely aware that there is more work to do off-screen regarding representation within the network’s leadership ranks.

“These are all things where I feel we have been doing good work but we have had a sharp reminder we need to move much quicker,” the network executive explained.

As a result, Channel 4 has committed to ensuring that 20% of its highest earning executives reflect London’s diverse BAME communities by 2023. The channel has additionally committed to doubling the number of ethnic minority-led indies that it works with.

RAMPING UP ON PRODUCTION

Although the network has trimmed £150 million from its programming budget as a direct result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Channel 4 has experienced “the strongest ratings the channel has had in years” and now sits alongside BBC1 as the best performing channel of the year. Contributing to that growth is a 10% bump in viewership among youths.

“Since the lockdown started, we’ve had 29 of the 50 biggest young shows on television anywhere, and a real sense of younger viewers coming to us,” said Katz. “It’s felt like a vindication of the strategy we adopted of not just battening down the hatches and stopping spending, but trying to commission our way through the crisis, albeit at lower tariffs.”

With the forthcoming year expected to be “bleaker and tougher”, Katz and his commissioning teams are looking to transform Channel 4 into a destination “for joy in a joyless age” where viewers can “reliably get some respite” from the current challenges.

As a result, C4 is heading into the fall with what Katz calls a “remarkably strong” schedule that offers fun and escapism via the return of social experiment series The Circle and comedy panel game show TaskmasterFirst Dates and Naked Attraction, meanwhile, will soon return to production while the latest season of flagship culinary program The Great British Bake Off has already wrapped filming.

The network is also embarking on new launches courtesy of The Steph Show, a daily live program from Yorkshire hosted by Steph McGovern; the James McAvoy-hosted reality series The Bridge, which sees contestants building a 250-meter bridge for the chance to win £100,000; and C4′s first foray into the natural history genre via the eight-part Living Wild (w/t) from Sky-backed Blast! Films, which will explore “the authentic experience of living alongside wildlife.”

All programs returning to production will follow strict safety and social distancing measures to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

“All in all, it feels like it’s tempting fate, and we don’t know what will happen with the buyers next year or the economy, but it does feel like we have weathered the worst of the storm and emerged from it very much back in business,” Katz stated.

The inaugural edition of the Edinburgh International Television Festival wraps today (August 27).

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