The hunt for quality returners that rate is C4’s biggest challenge

A BAME indie exec got in touch last week to query Broadcast’s coverage of Ian Katz’s slate and strategy reveal. Why, they wondered, was employing BAME talent being equated to risk-taking?

It’s a question that got me thinking about the notion of niche and mainstream, playing it safe or taking risks.

The exec was right: commissioning a 10pm or 11pm series fronted by a mixed race comedian or a black MC is not in itself an act of maverick genius. But Jamali Maddix (pictured) and Big Narstie are untested talent when it comes to TV, and asking them to front Channel 4 shows does push the broadcaster in a new direction.

In that sense, you could argue they have more in common with the cast of Derry Girls than, say, Sir Trevor McDonald or Anita Rani.

“The scope for taking the biggest risks, and Katz’s biggest challenge, is in the heart of the schedule”

It feels a bit unfair to criticise C4 – or any broadcaster – for broadening its range of talent and embracing the kind of diversity the industry has been talking about for so long.

Yet the scope for taking the biggest risks, and in some ways Katz’s biggest challenge, is in the heart of the schedule. That’s because C4’s strategy remains much the same as ever: find sufficient schedule-building successes to provide the headroom for experimentation. But landing those big shows is hard right across the sector.

BBC2 has been excited for some time about Electric Ray’s Million Pound Menu and – aside from the slightly strange denouement to each episode that has the participants sitting, staring at a door for an hour – it’s a well-shot fact-ent romp with serious stakes and plenty of energy.

The problem is that it attracted 770,000, or just over half of the slot average, albeit tripling the average number of 16-34s.

For BBC2 and especially C4, it feels like the mainstream shows require the majority of the attention. Finding the interesting and the edgy can start to seem more straightforward by comparison – no one had any expectation that Genderquake was going to do big figures.

There are positive signs. Katz played the taster for Second Star’s Flirty Dancing at his strategy presentation, which was met by a murmur of approval. What could have been yet another Ashley Banjo show/dating format came to life thanks to the obvious frisson between the couple meeting for the first time by performing a tango in an art gallery.

Who knows how the show will fare or where it will play, but finding fresh formats for primetime is exciting. If C4 can also integrate diversity into its more mainstream programming, there is even greater potential upside.

Dialing up diversity while finding popular new brands is the holy grail, and ratings success will be just as important to C4 as experimentation.

Chris curtis

Chris Curtis is the editor of Broadcast