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The Channel 4 chief executive’s call for more protection to be given to public service broadcasters has been rebuffed by the trade body for the US media companies he criticised in his MacTaggart lecture.
The Commercial Broadcasters Association (Coba), which represents US broadcasters operating in the UK including Fox, Discovery and NBC Universal, criticised David Abraham for advocating intervention.
Abraham told the Edinburgh International Television Festival that politicians and media regulator Ofcom should “act …decisively” to protect public service broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC in the rapidly consolidating digital age.
Abraham said: “If you care about creativity, speak up and speak up now. Stay silent and our special system may wither.”
But the Coba, which represents commercial broadcasters with no public service broadcasting (PSB) remit, said the multichannel sector outside of the PSBs – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – was “one of the fastest growing sources of investment in the UK broadcasting industry”.
Coba said its members had doubled their UK employee numbers in the last decade and increased investment in British TV production by 50 per cent in the last five years.
“In Coba’s view, the UK broadcasting sector benefits hugely from an increasingly mixed ecology, with a wide range of players, both PSB and non PSB, investing in different forms of domestic production,” it said.
“Coba cautions that intervention that damages one part of this sector in favour of another risks undermining this success and putting at risk the UK’s status as a global television hub.”
Coba said Channel 4 already obtains a “range of hugely significant advantages in the market” as one of the UK’s five public service broadcasters, with guaranteed access to free-to-air audiences.
It said multichannel was the fastest growing source of TV commissions from UK independent producers, up 59 per cent last year to £381 million (€477m).
BSkyB, another Coba member, also gave its own robust response to Abraham’s call for pay-TV operators to pay to carry Channel 4’s services on its platform.
Graham McWilliam, Sky’s group director of corporate affairs, said: “Just four years after pledging to stand on its own two feet in the marketplace, Channel 4 is again calling for a subsidy to compensate for its declining performance. This proposal amounts to a discriminatory tax on millions of licence fee-paying viewers to watch public service content that is supposed to be free.”
“Channel 4 should not be allowed to walk away from the obligation of universally free access, which comes with the very significant benefits of public service status.”