Archive for the ‘luke johnson’ Tag

Silver Lining

hi ho silver lining

hi ho silver lining

Here’s a rather salutary assessment of the economy from our Chairman here at Channel 4, Luke Johnson, in the FT. I have to say, it resonates for me – I’m pretty much a “a house is for living in” kinda guy.

For too long it has been more profitable in the west
to finance consumption rather than production.
That cannot continue. I am afraid that the west’s credibility
– and luck – has run out.

In the early days of Simple Pleasures 4 I began reflecting on what people really need, a stream of consciousness prompted by a Demos gathering which reminded me of a book which had really gotten me thinking – Coasting by Jonathan Raban.

Been meaning to get back to that post, Reflections on the Fundamentals of Life, for ages – nothing like a bit of financial meltdown to encourage thinking about the principles of economics.

So what did Coasting prompt? Looking back I seem to have re-invented Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. Still, no harm working out stuff for yourself.

What struck me last week, the week of the US presidential inauguration, was that Britain is in desperate need of a bit of self-confidence. With the City fucked by its own petard and North Sea oil drying up we’re really going to have to work out where we add value to the world.

So we arrive on earth like the Terminator, naked and balled up as a package with the basic needs outlined in that earlier post. The economics of our existence start from the need to cover those basic needs by doing the equivalent amount of work or value adding. But those needs simply meet our bestial basics. As King Lear argues, we need something over and above that to make life worth living.

“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

Watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona the other week, what constitutes that ‘something over’ has got really out of whack. The New York life-style portrayed in the movie (through Vicky’s impending marriage) was truly repellent.

The shift of emphasis from consumption to production and adding value could be the silver lining of these dark clouds. Is this the moment when we reflect and recognise what is true value and what matters? These are themes that have been on my mind over the last couple of years such as in this post prompted by  a Buffalo Springfield classic.

The schadenfreude around the collapse of the banks, or more so, the bankers stems from the fact most of them don’t produce anything or add value – they guess and they gamble, they speculate and they risk, they continue to short-sell bank shares the moment the ban is lifted to profit as usual at other people’s expense.

Talking of profiting at other people’s expense, Luke’s article reminds me of a bafflement I had as a teenager about just how did the economies of the West and the rest fit together. How come American’s have those huge fridges and South-East Asians live in huts, scraping together a bit of meat to go with their bowl of rice? How come we get paid hundreds of pounds a day when for equal effort and more they get pence? How come poverty here comes with a 32″ telly? A good friend of mine lent me when we were teens a copy of a JK Galbraith book, The Nature of Mass Poverty I think it was, which I struggled with but didn’t ultimately come to grips with – I’d probably get on much better with it now as the interest is truly there.

Luke raises similar questions: So why should industrious Asians earn a tiny fraction of what citizens in the west earn? Especially when they have so much of the cash and productive resources, while we have deficits, high costs and poor demographics.

Now what I know about economics you can fit on the back of an ATM slip – hence this second stream of consciousness thinking out loud.

Around the JKG time I was also baffled by how can this constant growth add up? How can countries expect to grow year on year with finite resources? How can we expect pay rises as a given year on year? Doesn’t there come a point where no matter how clever you are about squeezing the most out of existing resources and in creating technology to increase productivity those two graph lines eventually run into each other and cross?

My gut feeling about this moment is that we must use it as a time to readjust our values, to refocus on what is really important. We must use it to refocus as a country and as individuals on what value we can add. Having said that, it was a bit depressing to see the reactions to falling oil prices – after a few weeks of people really thinking about the car journeys they were making, the headlines swiftly reverted to ‘Supermarket forecourt price wars!’

The next three commissions on my plan are Landshare, where people who want to grow their own food are linked to people who have bits of land which can be grown on; the Secret Millionaire online where the online community get to give a million pounds to community groups and small charities which quietly add value, largely unseen; and a project on Adoption that tries to highlight the value of each and every child and enable it to be realised fully. I feel they are the product of a particular positive, back-to-basics  vibe. Despite the grimness of the IMF report which ranks Britain’s economy as the most adversely impacted this year of any major economy and the Lords scandal which ranks Britain’s high ranks as smelling as rank as it comes, I can’t help but feel there’s opportunity here…

The free range broadcaster

With all the speculation, misinformation, politicking and general bullshit flying around today with the release of TV regulator Ofcom’s blueprint “for sustaining and strengthening public service broadcasting (PSB) for the next decade” I’d like to take a moment here to highlight Ofcom’s recommendation for Channel 4:

Create a strong, alternative public service voice to the BBC, with Channel 4 at the heart

And pick up an article by Roy Greenslade, widely respected Professor of Journalism at London’s City University, writer for The Guardian and Evening Standard, and man about Donegal (believe he’s been spotted in The Bridge Bar, Ramelton where my wedding reached a satisfying, musical conclusion on Day 3). In tonight’s issue of the Standard (which I picked from the bin in East Finchley station – does Alexander Lebedev have any idea how few people part with actual cash money for it?) Prof G wrote the following insightful article:

Ofcom risks making a pig’s ear of C4 if we lose gourmet selection of quality TV
Roy Greenslade
21.01.09

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

On Monday evening I attended the preview of a Channel 4 documentary called Pig Business. It was a fine piece of work, a mixture of passion and compassion that raised all sorts of disturbing questions about factory farming, agri-business and globalisation, not to mention airing concerns about public health and the environment.

You can make up your own mind on 3 February, when it is screened on More4, but — even if you disagree with the polemic — it has to be seen as an extraordinary project because it was filmed over the course of four years by Tracy Worcester. After the showing there was loud applause for her and tributes from several speakers, including Zac Goldsmith and Chrissie Hynde. There was acclaim too from Tim Sparke, managing director of the path-breaking broadband TV documentary company Mercury Media, but he broadened his praise and struck a particularly topical note.

“If ever we need a demonstration of Channel 4’s commitment to public service broadcasting,” he said. “Then this is it.”

As C4’s chairman, Luke Johnson, and chief executive, Andy Duncan, peruse the Ofcom report released this morning that outlines how the channel will be funded in future, it is important to keep in mind the value of its output.

I know this is the channel of Big Brother, and that we are currently being assaulted by another instalment of a Celebrity Big Brother, a title that — given the crop of inmates — surely breaches the Trades Descriptions Act. But they are programmes that ramp up viewing figures, thereby attracting essential advertising revenue and enabling the broadcasting of serious public service broadcasting (PSB) content.

There is so much to appreciate about C4, not least its contribution to film, arts, drama and documentaries. There is a Channel 4 ethos, a distinctiveness, that sets it apart from both its commercial rivals and the publicly-funded BBC. I happen to be an avid viewer of Channel 4 News because it deals in some depth with the most important news stories of the day. It treats viewers as grown-ups and, significantly, attracts a young audience that clearly appreciates that fact. It’s a sort of early Newsnight.

Consider also the very different documentary and factual strands such as Dispatches, Cutting Edge and Unreported World. The latter, screened 20 times a year in peak time, takes viewers to stories in parts of Africa, South America and south-east Asia that never appear elsewhere.

Sure, the audiences are small. But the whole point of PSB, and of C4’s remit, is to widen the TV horizon. There is no point in sticking to a safe mainstream, agenda. Other broadcasters do that. There is a mix, with populist factual programming running alongside more esoteric stuff, but it works. C4 also commissions programmes that take risks or challenge our preconceptions.

Take the eight-part series now showing on Sunday evenings, Christianity: A History. It started off two weeks ago with a superb and counter-intuitive presentation from Howard Jacobson on Jesus the Jew. It was some of the most watchable TV I have seen in a long time, intelligent without being in the least bit pompous, provocative without any hint of bombast.

Turning to C4’s contribution to film, who can deny the virtues of a company that backed movie-makers such as Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave); Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Six Shooter)?

But let’s stop the tour here. The point of the exercise is to illustrate what we stand to lose if C4 is not adequately funded in the coming years. It is also to underline the point made by BBC executives, even if through gritted teeth, that rival PSB output is healthy for our society.

I realise the over-riding importance of C4 every time I call up the list of documentary channels on Sky and discover the endless loop-tape of what has rightly been dubbed a choice of sharks or Nazis.

What distinguishes C4’s factual output is that it rarely, if ever, stoops to the formulaic TV that populates the digital depths. That is one reason why I have been opposed to the notion of a merger with Five, a commercial channel that would erase the individuality of C4.

I have never seen the point of Five since its launch in 1997 and, going on the viewing figures, neither can most of the nation’s viewers. It is remarkable that a populist channel that screens wall-to-wall entertainment attracts only 4.6% of the total audience. Yet C4, with so much of its PSB programming specifically aimed at minority audiences, manages to get a 6.3% share.

I can well understand why the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, has advocated a C4-Five merger. He wants to protect the BBC’s licence fee and preserve the income from its own commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

While I was thinking about C4’s dilemma I realised that the Pig Business documentary offered several relevant metaphors. In its current state C4 is a free range broadcaster, offering good meat that satisfies the appetites of its customers. If it is overly constrained, whether by tighter budgets or by an uncomfortable accommodation with a rival, there will be a reduction in both the quantity and quality of its meat.

Factory-farmed TV is junk food for the masses. C4’s programmes, by contrast, are a gourmet selection for niche audiences. We lose them at our peril.”

Update 22.i.09:
Last night while I was writing this post Channel 4 was winning the Broadcaster of the Year Award at the Broadcast Awards.

It also picked up awards for:
Best Documentary: My Street [a wonderful film]
Best Documentary Series: The Genius of Charles Darwin
Best Single Drama: Boy A
Best New Programme: Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live
Best International Sales: Come Dine With Me

Update 22.i.09:

To ram the point home, this lunchtime (GMT) this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4’s Film4 have received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

Baa raa black sheep

frank gallagher

A pretty action-packed day by any standards. Just on my way home from the British Animation Awards at the National Film Theatre where we launched Channel 4’s new broadband animation channel – 4mations – in collaboration with Aardman and Lupus Films. What I liked most about the awards was that each award was a unique framed image made by an animation professional (including David Shrigley [Blur – Good Song, Hallam Foe titles], Darren Walsh [Angry Kid, Beck – Four Steps, Sony Bravia Play-Doh/rabbits] and Andy Martin [E4 Music, Kerrang! TV IDs] – you can see them all on the 2008 Prizes link on http://www.britishanimationawards.com) – unique images on the subject of sheep – BAA, baa, sheep, geddit? The whole thing was a celebration of the incredible talent across the UK in this tight-knit, ultimately for-love-not-money industry (not that it doesn’t make money but that’s not what drives its creatives). Happily, Shaun the Sheep picked up a couple of …sheep.

The wolves in sheeps clothing on this particular evening included Richard Morrison for the Sweeney Todd movie titles (produced by that blast from my past, Dominic Buttimore of Th1ng, convener of the annual Elvis birthday tribute at which an 8mm version of Blue Hawaii gets its yearly airing); Osbert Parker for Yours Truly, a thrillingly inventive film noirish animation made under the Animate scheme funded by Channel 4 and the Arts Council), one of three Channel 4 successes on the night; and Simon Tofield for the hilariously well observed feline dynamics captured in Cat Man Do – my favourite of the night.

Behind me in the queue going in was the venerable John Coates, creator of The Snowman and producer of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film. One of the nominees was an IrnBru ad parodying The Snowman [Phenomenal Xmas by Robin Shaw/Sherbet], in which the high-pitched kid gets dropped out of the sky by the soaring snowman who nicks his tin. Rightly enough, John was flattered by the homage. The author of the source book, Raymond Briggs, was altogether less sanguine last autumn about this derivative. The Snowman was one of the very first commissions by Channel 4, a quarter of a century ago, which leads us neatly into the other action of the day…

The other end of the day saw the launch of Next on 4 – the blueprint for the next phase of Channel 4 as it moves into its second quarter century. There were a couple of moments of magic that lifted the whole event from a corporate function to an inspiring vision for public service broadcasting.

The first was a video clip. Times are tough. Competition is fierce. The media industries are up in the air. The public service broadcasting model is falling behind the times. The regulator’s breathing down your neck. You’ve been known to upset the powers that be. The advertising revenue is disappearing into the maw of US corporates. The halcyon days of Charlotte Street, The Comic Strip and Max Headroom are a dim&distant memory. The enemy’s at the gate. The wolves are at the door. What do you do? Get Nick Broomfield to make a spoof documentary about the purposes of Channel 4 culminating in a slurred elucidation by none other than Frank Gallagher, just in the Nick of time before the Grolsched-out mainstay of Shameless passes out. “The point of Channel 4, Nicholush, is to maintain the salience of its remit in the new digital age.” Are you people taking this seriously? We are – because only Channel 4 would turn it to comedy (with substance). The medium is very much the message.

The second was a Churchillian moment from the Chairman, Luke Johnson. After struggling a bit during the opening address with the awkwardness that is those autocue systems with the smoked grey glass plates on bendy stalks , to round off the Q&A (hosted in the style we love him for by Jon Snow) Luke responded to the final question by reminding us all that Next on 4, this event, the debate around Channel 4 as Ofcom reviews our public service broadcasting, is all about the value of Channel 4 to UK society and the values and public purposes which drive it. Think Henry V. Think an authentic moment when the passion for an idea breaks through a breach in corporate decorum. Think raw not baa.

churchillfrank gallagher

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