Channel 4’s chief executive David Abraham has said “hit” shows such as Bake Off effectively help to pay for the broadcaster’s news output.
Taking questions from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today, Abraham said the channel was “actually spending more on news now then we were five years ago”.
“We are reaching more younger people as a result of the profitability of other parts of the schedule,” he added.
Abraham told MPs the TV advertising market was predicted to be down between 4 and 5 per cent overall and that on a year-on-year basis Channel 4 was down £40-50m on the same period last year in terms of revenue.
But, he said online viewing was worth £100m to the broadcaster – more than 10 per cent of total revenue – and had seen “healthy growth”.
Channel 4 News publishes about 60 videos per week on social media, particularly Facebook, positioning it as “one of the larges providers of public service news to younger audiences”, according to Abraham.
Asked how Channel 4 made money against its audience in the face of digital disruption from online platforms, Abraham said: “If this was a standalone business in the news area that would be very challenging.
“But of course Channel 4 operates a cross-subsidy model so there are part of our schedule which are scheduled commercially to create profits that then are put back into those areas of the schedule that deliver the public value.
“So Bake Off effectively helps to pay for Channel 4 News.”
He added: “That is the heart of the Channel 4 model so we make no apologies for acquiring a hit that helps us do that.”
Abraham and Channel 4 chairman Charles Gurassa also faced questions on the news channel’s error in wrongly naming the Westminster Bridge terror attacker during a live broadcast earlier this year.
They said the attacker had been Trevor Brooks, better known as Abu Izzadeen, but in fact it was Khalid Masood. The broadcaster later acknowledged on air that Brooks was still serving a jail sentence.
It was the fourth time Ofcom found Channel 4 in breach of the broadcasting code in three years. In 2015 it named the victims of the Shoreham air show crash before police had informed their families.
Gurassa said the board had felt that this was “one occurrence too many” and carried out an independent review into “practices and processes” at both ITN and Channel 4 News following the terror attack code breach.
Abraham, who is set to leave Channel 4 this month, said of the “human error” that it was “a very rare and a very unfortunate incident” that happened while journalists were “under tremendous pressure”.
He added: “I can absolutely reassure you that the [board] review has been detailed and everyone involved has engaged with the process of the review fully and lessons have been learned.”
Asked whether Channel 4 News competed with the likes of the BBC to break stories, Abraham said: “I would say most of the time Channel 4 isn’t trying to beat anyone in terms of the velocity of a breaking news story.
“Most of the time we are investigating areas of the national and international agenda that other people are not going to.
“Our international news coverage is more committed and more prevalent than any other national news broadcaster and we do more of it and more hours than anyone else.
“The way in which we bring stories to national attention and do so with more diverse audiences is really what’s at the heart of the programme.”
In response to a question asking whether Channel 4 News would try to break a news story online, particularly on social media, Abraham said: “Actually no.
“What we are actually doing is we are re-purposing interesting video-based reporting and interviews and stories… into bite-sized chunks that are consumable for a mobile audience in a very effective way.
He added: “The brief, the proposition, of that service is not to break news.”
The pair said Channel 4 News’ most viewed online content was footage from an Aleppo hospital, shot by Waad Al-Katieb, that has had 44m views.
Picture: Parliament TV