C4’s Alex Mahon Stresses Need for Innovation, Risk-Taking


Delivering a MIPFormats keynote this weekend, Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon emphasized the need for innovation and risk-taking in the non-scripted entertainment sector.

The pubcaster—the youngest-skewing one in the world, Mahon said—has launched a number of global format hits, among them Gogglebox, Come Dine with Me and others.

On the way forward for Channel 4, Mahon noted, innovation and risk-taking will remain keys to its remit, as will breaking new talent and representing diversity. “The concept of distinctiveness in a post-Netflix world is more important than ever.” As is relevance for linear broadcasters. “Why does the audience need you, what do you provide to the market that others don’t?”

When Mahon arrived at Channel 4, she stressed three elements to the team there: technology, commercial smarts and diversity.

“The bull’s eye is something that is creatively good and commercially successful,” the former Shine Group chief executive said. “It’s my job to ensure the doors are open so the producers can come in. To get the best content, you need to work hand in hand with producers. To do that you have to be clear about you want, where you’re prepared to take risks. We genuinely want new talent.”

Addressing technology, Mahon noted how digital platforms have changed consumers’ expectations of how they access content. “At the same time, as a broadcaster you have the ability to build brands. And you have that reach to get to consumers. And you are the agent of recommendation for new things. So the question is, how do we use those assets to keep building brands, and how do we embrace technology to get our platforms up to standard?”

Technology platforms have changed consumer relationships, she continued. “Netflix has changed the emotional relationship you have with content,” she noted.

Mahon went on to say, “You might think the market is more fragmented, but big shows are getting bigger. We used to talk about event television as, Are you watching at 8 p.m. on Saturday night? It’s now, Did you see what I saw this week? That’s about relevancy. No matter how you window across that, whether it’s VOD or live or repeat, there’s a demand from consumers for that.”

A key issue, she noted, is how you measure what success looks like today. “It definitely can’t be live overnights.”

On the lack of new big format hits over the last few years, Mahon commented, “There is a tendency in our business to de-risk everything. Things don’t take off really fast and then they are abandoned. The answer to that is to open up the risk windows in the schedule, where risks can be taken. So that might be later, or daytime. And do it enough, repeatedly, so there isn’t the inherent fear locked into every individual show. And to encourage the environment where you can be open and ask about things and try ideas without diluting them by risking every element.”

Non-scripted producers, she continued, need to be “fleet of foot,” adding, “The challenge for us on the non-scripted side is how can we come up with formats that are less repetitive and create pockets for [broadcasters] to experiment in the schedule.”