British broadcaster Channel 4 is looking to double down on drama series that are “too hot to handle” after warning that it is being priced out of top tier drama productions.
Ian Katz, director of programmes at C4, said that it wants to commission more series like The Virtues, the Stephen Graham-fronted child abuse drama from Shane Meadows that it aired earlier this year, and was stepping away from the top tier of big-budget scripted series.
Speaking at the House of Lords Communications Committee, Katz said, “There is a certain scale of drama production from which we have been all but priced out of, the $100M series. By and large we are not in that business anymore so it will mean that we are going to lose some ideas that come to us. But when I look at the bulk of those, they are fairly glossy, international stories that don’t necessarily speak to our audience, to a British audience.”
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C4 has previously been a co-producer on series including Beau Willimon’s space drama The First, a co-production with Hulu, AMC co-pro Humans and Amazon co-pro Electric Dreams. It has also partnered with Hulu on a number of series including Aisling Bea’s This Way Up and The Bisexual.
But he added, “My real concern is that we are able to fully fund the stories that are important for a Channel 4 audience, that are very specifically British or are simply too hot to handle for any other broadcaster. I think about shows like The Virtues. In order to make sure that we can fully fund those very British productions, we need to make sure that we stretch our budget by doing a certain number of co-productions and a certain number of different models of funding.”
The committee, which was discussing the future of public service broadcasting in the age of video-on-demand, questioned Katz and his boss, C4 CEO Alex Mahon, on whether it had become a sellers’ market in terms of high-end drama.
Mahon, who previously ran British superindie Shine Group, said that she didn’t believe this was the case. She added that while some production companies would be interested to sell their shows to global SVOD services in return for giving up their IP for one large cheque, others with an eye on selling their production companies may not.
“When the funding levels from the SVODs are very high, which they are at the moment, it can be very attractive to sell the rights for a higher upfront price and that is completely understandable when you’re running your own business. I do think that if that continues in our industry for a certain number of years, we are in dangerous territories because the strength of exports and the global soft power has come from having a set of companies that own their underlying intellectual property. If all of your rights are bought out, after five or ten years, you don’t have anything to sell your company on. You have made good revenues but there’s nothing left,” she said.