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Channel 4 on coronavirus, how TV has responded, and the advertising implications

Matt Salmon, Sales Director, Channel 4
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In association with The Future of TV Advertising UK fortnight, we are publishing a series of seven Q&A sessions with leading television executives to get their insights into the Covid-19 crisis and its implications. In this interview, it is Matt Salmon, Sales Director at Channel 4, giving his views. 


Question: What has impressed you the most with how TV has reacted to the coronavirus crisis?

Matt: I’m constantly impressed by the power TV in the UK not only to entertain but to inform, educate and ultimately change behaviour. At times of national crisis TV, and especially public service broadcasting, takes on a unique role in our society –  for Channel 4 that means that now, more than ever, we must ensure we our speaking to the audiences we were created to serve.

I’ve been incredibly impressed by how quickly commissioners and schedulers from across the industry have moved to change schedules to respond to a country on lockdown – from commissioning quick turnaround factual to inform and educate, to moving heaven and earth to find ways to bring live shows to air within the current social distancing restrictions – like our very own The Steph Show – equally important in making audiences feel connected in isolation. As a result, viewing has sky-rocketed as audiences turn to the TV brands they trust to help them navigate this new world.


Question: Worldwide Chairman and CEO of MediaCom, Stephen Allan, said broadcast media are facing a “perfect storm”, referring to the fact that TV audiences have gone up but channels risk running out of shows. What is your take on that and what, specifically, are CNN doing to combat this perfect storm?

Matt: This crisis is undoubtedly having an impact on our revenues and as an ad-funded broadcaster, our schedule – which is why we have announced a range of financial measures to help us through this difficult period. Ian [Katz, Director of Programmes] and the team have said quite clearly there are a number of productions that have been delayed and some which regrettably will not be happening. But we remain confident we will continue to have a range of high quality programming on offer over the year for our viewers and advertisers – we’ve already announced and in some cases aired a number of brand new commissions. The key here is to continue to respond to our audience needs in the unique way that only C4 can – which I believe we are doing and will continue to do.


Question: A lot of advertisers have reacted in a positive manner to the crisis. What has been your favourite TV ad during this period and why?

Matt: We all know that TV has always been the very best place to build your brand and in the present situation brands that have the budget to continue to make powerful brand creatives will undoubtedly resonate with the huge audiences that are available. Being part of the unique conversation that is happening in millions of homes across the country is a huge opportunity as audiences look to trusted brands to make sense of an unsettling situation.

Personally, I’ve been impressed by the way our major supermarkets have all responded in their advertising – they’ve found themselves on the front line of this crisis and have performed amazingly to help keep the nation fed. If I were to pick one, I think the way Tesco created fast-turnaround copy to help customers navigate the new in-store experience was great – but then they’ve also followed it up with a very clever twist on their Food Love Stories campaign – which is certainly resonating well in my family at the moment!

Closer to home, I’m also incredibly proud of our #ClapForOurCarers break which aired right at the start of that initiative and pulled in over 40 different brands who wanted to show their support for the NHS alongside us – a fantastic collaborative effort which really shows what this industry can do when it pulls together.


Question: Many media analysts believe this pandemic will accelerate huge changes in consumer behaviour. With that in mind, what is the future of TV advertising?

Matt: There’s a reason I’m not a media analyst – I don’t have a crystal ball and I try not to predict the future, especially when we’re smack bang in the middle of an unprecedented global crisis.

But, what seems to be different about this crisis, compared to previous recessions, is that much of the demand for products and services is being pent up rather than completely lost. This means that when the lockdown starts to lift, the role of brands will be significant, and the power of TV as important as it was before, if not more so.

I also believe that the emotional needs that most products and services fulfil will still exist in some shape or form on the other side of this. Some needs will be higher up the scale because of what we’re going through – for example, the need to connect with others, the importance of health, and recognition for those who provide care and the importance of family. Some may be lower. But I believe TV advertising remains a powerful tool in enabling trusted brands to fulfil these needs for people. I don’t think that is going to change.

The Future of TV Advertising UK – streamed conference on Thursday, April 30

If you are interested in the future of TV advertising, check out the one-day, streamed thought-leadership conference – The Future of TV Advertising UK – on Thursday April 30. This provides a full-day of streamed content to your desk. You can see the agenda here, and register to listen (free) here.


See what these execs are saying on coronavirus, how TV has responded, and the advertising implications…

Link to these Q&As…

Rob Bradley, Senior Vice President, CNN International Commercial

Christian Kurz, Senior VP, Global Consumer Insights at ViacomCBS

Sarah Jones, Director of Planning at Sky Media

Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox and President of the Global TV Group

Mark Trinder, Director of Commercial Sales and Partnerships, ITV

Kate McVeigh, Vice President, International Client Strategy and Development, CNBC International

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