Channel 4 chief executive has caused a stir at the Edinburgh International Television Festival with his claim that British television is under threat from rapacious US media giants.
Abraham used the flagship MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last night to warn that British TV faces a take-over from US technology giants including Apple and Google as well as media moguls including Virgin Media’s John Malone and Rupert Murdoch.
He called on UK politicians and regulators to act decisively to “update and strengthen” public service broadcasting in the UK and said that the UK had “created the best conditions for creative programme-making on the planet”.
This, he claimed, was under threat because of the profit motives of larger US companies which have been seeking to buy up key parts of the British media in recent years. Most recently the UK’s largest independent producer, Midsomer Murders maker All3Media, was purchased up by a consortium of Discovery and Malone’s Liberty Global.
Malone is also rumoured to be preparing a bid for ITV over the next twelve years with some city analysts valuing the commercial broadcaster at between £10bn and £13bn.
Abraham said the UK independent production sector was being “snapped up almost wholesale” by global media companies “at a faster rate than tickets to a public flogging of Jeremy Clarkson.”
“This special landscape of ours did not happen by accident,” Abraham said. “So we should not assume that, left purely to the market, it will continue to thrive. If you care about creativity, speak up and speak up now. Stay silent and our special system may wither. Once gone, it will never come back.”
He said his point was “not to wrap ourselves in a union jack – or a saltire, for that matter”. But he said corporate America had a “different attitude towards experimentation and risk-taking” to that in the UK.
Abraham defended last night’s speech in a special question and answer session this morning against the criticisms of it – and also revealed in an aside that he would never wish to work for the BBC.
The Commercial Broadcasters Association (Coba), which represents US broadcasters operating in the UK including Fox, Discovery and NBC Universal, criticised Abraham for advocating “intervention that damages one part of this sector in favour of another”.
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.