Channel 4 cuts content budget by £150m as virus hits ad revenues

Beleaguered broadcaster to slash programming costs and furlough almost 100 employees

Channel 4 is to cut its programming budget by £150m and furlough almost 100 staff as it fights to survive the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The broadcaster, which is publicly owned but funded mostly by TV advertising, faces an advertising revenue slump of 50% over the next two months. This week analysts estimated that Channel 4 had the finances to survive for only six months without making cuts.

Channel 4’s management, including the chief executive, Alex Mahon, and director of programmes, Ian Katz, are to take a 20% pay cut and will not receive bonuses this year. The broadcaster also announced that 10% of its more than 900 staff are to be furloughed.

“As a commercially funded business, the Covid-19 outbreak has had a severe impact on our advertising revenues,” Mahon said. “And so we are taking action now to manage our costs appropriately and ensure that we both protect our staff and our ongoing ability to serve our audience.”

The broadcaster intends to cut £150m from its £660m programming budget, representing nearly a quarter of its spend. It admitted that it would mean fewer new shows on screen this year, with the filming of the next series of The Great British Bake Off paused because of coronavirus.

“This will reflect both the delay of programmes which have been unable to be produced due to the circumstances and a number of shows which will regrettably have to be cancelled,” Katz said. “This will impact the whole portfolio with a number of new shows on E4 also postponed or cancelled.”

Channel 4 is seeking to make £95m in additional savings, including through a hiring freeze, cutting its marketing budget and delaying investments.

In addition, the company has said it will draw down an emergency £75m overdraft for the first time, after agreeing the measure with the government. Channel 4 has about £120m in cash reserves.

The broadcaster is under more pressure than its rivals ITV, Sky and the BBC, as its £1.1bn in annual revenues are derived almost entirely from advertising.

While the nationwide lockdown has meant viewing is booming, and Channel 4 shows including Celebrity Bake Off and Gogglebox have set audience records, advertisers are delaying spending as the economy slumps.

Contributor

Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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