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Channel 4 chief calls for protection against ‘tech behemoths’

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon (House of Commons/PA)
Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon (House of Commons/PA)

The chief executive of Channel 4 has said that Britain’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) must be protected because they provide a “vital counterweight” to the threat of the “tech behemoths”.

Alex Mahon said viewers should be wary of a future controlled only by just the “biggest players in tech”, such as streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Speaking at the Royal Television Conference in Cambridge, she warned that PSBs such as the BBC, ITV and her own channel, risked failing to remain “both relevant to and trusted by our audience”.

She said: “Over the last two days we have seen the challenges facing the industry today in the hard data that the RTS excels in.

“The new and expanded landscape presents new opportunities that we should celebrate but, if we want British television to continue to be both relevant to and trusted by our audience we should continue to cherish and support public service broadcasters.

“We are a vital counterweight to the growing concentration of power in the hands of just a few tech behemoths who increasingly want to decide what we read, watch and listen to.”

Speaking with John Hardie, the former chief executive of ITN, Ms Mahon warned that a future dominated by streaming giants would lack the breadth of TV viewers demanded.

She said: “A world where content is consumed mainly on iOS and Android or searched for on Google or Alexa and a very few companies control what you watch, and serve their own content and services first in commercial priority above anything else.

Edinburgh TV Festival
Channel 4’s headquarters in London (Andrew Parsons/PA)

“Who can blame them? It makes better business sense to surface first the content they make the best returns on, whether it’s Amazon boosting its own products on Google prioritising its own podcast service, or Netflix serving us its own productions.

“If that’s something like Orange Is The New Black, When They See Us or Stranger Things that’s great. When the streamers are good they’re very very good.

“But alongside the hero titles there’s an awful lot of the same: whether it’s drugs lords, mass killers, real crime or heist thrillers – a mix that I suspect is not entirely representative of anyone’s day to day.”

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