Channel 4 director of programmes Ian Katz heralded a return to “a more mixed economy of tariffs,“ as ad revenues creep back, whilst making it clear that some cost-cutting is here to stay.

Speaking to an online audience at the Edinburgh TV Festival today, he said: “We won’t be trying to make huge number of hours at 50k as we were….But we have learnt about making things more cheaply including bigger shows….There are things that we will take forward and bake into out productions.”

Katz paid tribute to indies and producers that have helped to keep production going despite cuts in budgets during Covid. “I’m sure many indies made shows for us on very lean margins because we basically had a small pot of money and had to stretch it…and we really valued the spirit of collaborative and common endeavour to keep the whole show on the road.”

Indies will be relying on a continuing honest and transparent approach from the Channel as it regains its equilibrium. In a separate Edinburgh Festival session earlier on the same day, indie bosses reported slow payment from Channel 4 with a negative impact on cash flow.

Naturally, keeping some of the bigger brands on screen will be more expensive with Covid work-arounds, despite some savings where international locations might be replaced with domestic. “We’ve been able to get the vast majority of big shows back into production,” said deputy director of programmes at Channel 4, Kelly Webb-Lamb. Gogglebox has kept going throughout lockdown and Bake Off and the Circle are coming back. A new UK version of international reality series The Bridge from Workerbee is going into production.

Since the government announced its £500m Covid insurance fund at the end of July, work has also resumed on drama and comedy productions, both a priority for Katz.

Eight-part drama The Birth of Daniel F Harris by Pete Jackson has been ordered from Clerkenwall Films. The 30-minute episodes tell the story of eighteen year old Danny whose father has brought him up in a remote location following his mum’s death in a car crash.

Comedy has risen further up the agenda in the light of Covid and is increasingly permeating all genres. “I’ve got an instinct that next year is going to be pretty grim …it’s a pretty safe bet that life is going to be a bit bleaker and tougher,” says Katz.

“I want the channel to be a place where people can come and get some respite from the grimmer in life.”

The channel is launching The National Comedy Awards for Stand Up to Cancer. Made by Hungry Bear, the viewer-voted awards show will air in 2021.

Channel 4 is looking at injecting more escapism and joy into other genres, with shows such as another new commission, travelogue A Great British, Female, Gay, Disabled, Covid Compliant Adventure with comedian Rosie Jones (w/t).

For a channel established to represent the under-represented, Channel 4 is keen to embrace diversity, both in front of and behind the camera and has checks and balances in place to audit this.

Katz revealed a further initiative, Black Takeover Day, as a focus for some diverse content and film-makers. Working with the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity to ensure that the day is meaningful on screen and behind the camera, it will include new programming with life beyond the day itself.

Pippa Considine

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