Cohen: Set-up is right at BBC Four

Danny Cohen Danny Cohen says viewers want more authenticity

Danny Cohen has defended the appointment of an editor to lead BBC Four, rather than a dedicated controller.

The director of television said that Cassian Harrison, named channel editor last month, would have the autonomy to run BBC Four as he chose, but could also reap the benefits of working more closely with BBC Two.

'He doesn't have to get sign-off from Janice [Hadlow, controller of BBC Two and Four],' said Cohen, speaking at Factual: The Televisual Festival on Wednesday.

But he anticipated more conversation and collaboration between the two channels which have 'similar audiences'.

'There should be a number of moments each year where they join up and become more than the sum of their parts.'

He also dismissed any notion that BBC Four would become an arts and music channel, insisting it would remain a mixed genre channel identified by its 'characterful, very distinctive, slightly eccentric' output.

'Ripe for reinvention'

Cohen told the audience of programme makers that his channels were hungry for new ideas and new kinds of storytelling.

Factual on BBC One was 'ripe for reinvention', he believed, as its new controller Charlotte Moore sought to put her mark on her channel.

'We need to replace some of those older brands,' he said, adding that Moore was looking for documentary series, formatted factual and factual entertainment.

Cohen described BBC Two as the UK's 'standout factual channel', although now with a significant gap to fill with the loss of Bake-Off to BBC One.

'There's a big opportunity across all the channels to renew, refresh,' said the director, who believed the audience was beginning to tire of over-formatted content.

'I feel there is a thirst for authenticity,' he judged, believing viewers disliked the loss of a 'genuine sense of emotion'.

'Things that feel over-formatted, people sniff that out and turn away quite quickly.'

He believed many of the best new ideas could be found between genres.

NHU does comedy

He cited two successful hybrids in The Call Centre, a fly-on-the-wall documentary that was edited to comedic effect, and the forthcoming NHU's Deep in the Wild, Wild Woods. The wildlife show, which will go out at Christmas to a family audience, had a 'sometimes comic, sometimes entertainment' feel.

'I'm always interested in finding those spaces between genres to do something different.'

Access documentary, meanwhile, would remain important, with the likes of new BBC One six-parter about the Metropolitan Police and Iceland Foods: Life In The Freezer Cabinet.

He reassured delegates that the frozen food giant had no editorial say in the programmes, but believed we should be as curious about big retailers as we are about public service institutions.

'We should be going into some of these big, big companies because they have such an impact on our lives.'

iPlayer controller

On plans for iPlayer, Cohen expected to recruit a controller shortly, with detail of the 'fifth channel's' commissioning budget to become clear in the new year.

He said iPlayer would continue to be the BBC's on demand home for its channels and means of accessing them live online, but it would also feature bespoke content, such as short-form drama.

iPlayer would act as a 'nursery slope', he said, with comedy piloting and new director opportunities.

There would also be iPlayer channels for different genres and pop-up channels around events, like Glastonbury and Wimbledon.

At the top end of factual output, meanwhile, he envisaged a move towards more co-productions 'as audience expectation of scale increases'.

He said the BBC was 'doing lots and lots with American partners' and that the advantages of this approach were manifest, 'if we can get the tone and feel of it right'.

'So long as the programmes feel they are made for our audiences and not for a global soup of an audience,' Cohen cautioned.


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