Channel 4 “will emerge from crisis stronger than ever”
October 29, 2020
Channel 4 has published its Annual Report 2019, describing the year as “a transformational year for the organisation as it delivered the biggest structural change in its history – opening new bases in Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol – and continued to grow its digital viewing and revenues at pace”.
Channel 4’s digital views on All 4 grew at +9 per cent over 2019, helping to drive an +18 per cent growth in digital revenues, to £163 million. Digital made up a record 9.5 per cent of overall viewing and a record 17 per cent of overall corporation revenue, which grew by £10 million year-on-year to £985 million, despite challenging ad market conditions. A planned pre-tax deficit of £26 million reflected the investment in opening new bases and digital transformation.
Investment in originated content rose by +£3 million year-on-year to £492 million with £660 million total content spend over 2019. Nations & Regions spend increased to £189m. A standout creative year included critically acclaimed dramas The Virtues, The Accident, Brexit: The Uncivil War, and The End of the F***ing World – which was the youngest skewing drama on any terrestrial channel in 2019.
Award-winning factual output included Leaving Neverland, Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain and For Sama. A range of returning hits continued to grow their audience including The Circle, Gogglebox, SAS: Who Dares Wins, Derry Girls and Stath Lets Flats – and the channel established a number of new returning brands including Snackmasters, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, The Dog House and 60 Days on the Street with Ed Stafford.
This delivered growth in peak-time viewing share on Channel 4 across all key demographics – including all individuals (+2 per cent), 16-34s (+2 per cent) and Black and Minority Ethnic viewers (+9 per cent). It also helped All 4 views grow by +9 per cent to a record 995m in total. All-time viewing share was flat for 16-34s and slightly down -1 per cent for all individuals. Overall portfolio viewing declined -3 per cent across the year reflecting younger viewers moving to streaming content, but the growth in All 4 views helped offset this.
Given the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK, Channel 4 has also given an in-year update on its performance in 2020 – with a strong creative and digital performance and a better-than-forecast return in the advertising market helping to deliver a significantly improved financial position. Channel 4 says tis will enable to end 2020 with a healthy financial surplus to invest through economically uncertain times – and Channel 4 will also repay its £1.5 million furlough payment to the Government.
In March as the impact of the pandemic took hold in the UK, and with the ad market down around -50 per cent, Channel 4 put in place a swift and prudent financial plan – reducing the 2020 content budget by £150 million, finding £95 million in further organisational savings and drawing down on the organisation’s commercial revolving credit facility to give further liquidity if needed.
However, Channel 4 still continued to commission a range of reactive and responsive lockdown programmes to help reflect the experience of people living through the pandemic in the UK – including Grayson’s Art Club and Jamie’s Keep Cooking and Carry On; as well as a range of fast-turnaround current affairs and documentaries, which alongside Channel 4 News, helped keep viewers informed. Some 50 per cent of the content investment was ringfenced to support small, Nations & Regions and BAME-led independent producers.
Research undertaken by Tapestry for Channel 4 during H1 2020 revealed that lockdown has made the audience re-appraise the importance of public service broadcasters – with 67 per cent of under-35s agreeing that ‘PSBs have been quick to respond to lockdown, providing relevant shows’. 7 out of 10 people believe lockdown would have been worse without PSBs and their BVOD services.
Over the most severe ‘lockdown’ period (March 23rd to July 3rd) Channel 4 delivered huge growth in viewing and share across platforms, particularly amongst young viewers. 16-34 viewing share grew by +20 per cent across Channel 4 and by +36 per cent in peak-time, more than any other terrestrial channel. Channel 4 News viewing share over lockdown grew by +19 per cent and by +79 per cent amongst 16-34 viewers – and across the year there has been over half a billion views to its content on social media. All 4 experienced particularly strong growth, with its views up +54 per cent over the lockdown period – as viewers appreciated the breadth of its content offer, which as the UK’s largest free streaming service includes a huge archive and range of exclusive content, as well as catch-up.
Channel 4 says it remains “incredibly grateful to our brilliant partners” in the production sector for getting productions up and running as quickly as possible, including major shows such as The Great British Bake Off and Hollyoaks. Channel 4 has also invested to support the production of Formula One highlights as the Championship returned.
Bake Off launched with 10.8m viewers, winning Channel 4 its biggest audience since 1985,and audiences across Channel 4’s services remain significantly up over the autumn – with all individual viewing share on Channel 4 up +3 per cent and the Channel 4 portfolio up +2 per cent year-on-year; and 16-34 viewing on the main channel up +5 per cent, and +9 per cent in peak-time. All 4 views remain significantly up year-on-year at +27 per cent.
This strong creative and viewing performance, particularly in digital, alongside a better-than-forecast return of the advertising market from the late summer has enabled Channel 4 to significantly improve its financial position.
As a result, Channel 4 expects to end 2020 with a significant financial surplus which will be used to strengthen the organisation’s balance sheet and invest through Covid and Brexit related uncertainty. Channel 4 has added an additional £11 million to this year’s content spend and plans to increase the 2021 content budget significantly versus 2020.
The robust financial position will also enable Channel 4 to pay back the furlough payments it received from the Government’s Coronavirus job retention scheme, amounting to around £1.5 million. Additionally, the corporation has also made a £250,000 donation to the Film & TV Charity’s Covid-19 Recovery Fund to support the sector through an extremely tough period – which builds on a range of support Channel 4 has given to the industry during lockdown, including mentoring and training.
Across the year, Channel 4 has continued to build its presence in its new bases in the Nations & Regions and has continued to welcome new staff to the business through lockdown in areas such as 4Studio, the organisation’s new digital content studio based in Leeds. The corporation remains on track to deliver to the commitments made in the 4 All the UK strategy to have 300 jobs based across the Nations & Regions and to increase its Nations & Regions content spend to 50 per cent by 2023.
Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s Chief Executive, said: “2020 has undoubtedly been an incredibly challenging year, but Channel 4 is showing that we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. The pandemic has underlined the vital importance that public service broadcasters like Channel 4 play in supporting, informing, connecting and entertaining our nation’s audiences when they need us most. It has also highlighted the brilliance of the UK’s production sector who have not just kept our biggest shows on air but worked with tireless ingenuity to ensure we are serving our viewers with reactive and responsive content.”
“We will end this year with a cash surplus and a robust financial position to protect against any further economic instability caused by Covid. We will also have a strong base from which to continue the next phase of our transformation, building on the success we have shown in 2019 and 2020 in growing our digital viewing and our digital revenues at pace,” Mahon added.
Charles Gurassa, Channel 4’s Chair, commented: “Channel 4 has come into its own in the pandemic, demonstrating an impressive ability to weather this unprecedented crisis and underlining the flexibility and resilience of its business model. It has reconfirmed our role as a distinctive, trustworthy, independent and authentic British voice. Set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, mega-global media and technology companies entering the UK market, fragmenting audiences and the ever-increasing risk of disinformation, this is perhaps more important than ever. As we come towards the end of 2020 the Channel is emerging from this most difficult of years in rude financial health and creatively confident and distinct ready to face the challenges of the future.”