ViacomCBS’s UK Content Boss Ben Frow On Coronavirus: “It’s A F—–g Pain In The Arse”

Viacom International Media Networks’ UK director of programs Ben Frow has spoken frankly about the network’s coronavirus challenges, revealing that he is “frightened” for the future and challenging producers to work harder on kickstarting production.

In an Edinburgh TV Festival event streamed over YouTube, Frow voiced his frustration over the fact that free-to-air network Channel 5’s advertising revenue has plummeted at the same time as viewing has increased during lockdown over the past six weeks.

“It’s a f—–g pain in the arse,” he said, adding: “We have all these lovely viewers but you can’t make as much money from them.” But while there has been a short-term viewing boost, he has fears for the months ahead.

Frow said he has spent an intense period with his colleagues ripping up Channel 5’s schedule to reflect changing audience demands and what can be delivered during the production hiatus. He said viewers can expect to see more repeats.

Frow explained: “I really don’t know where we are going to go, I don’t know what the world is going to look like in nine months’ time and what television will look like, and in a way I can’t go there.

“I know it’s my job to go there but I sort of can’t go there because if I go there I just get really frightened about it being impossible and about it being unachievable and about us being in a situation where we can’t do it.”

Frow added that streamers have created “carnage” in certain areas of the Channel 5 schedule, including at 10PM, when he said, “everybody decides to go to the SVODs.” As a result, he is pulling funding in the slot.

Despite his concerns, the director of programs said he is focused on repositioning and reworking ideas to fill the schedule and “keep the show on the road.” He continued: “Gradually as things become clearer, we will be able to breathe a little bit easier and maybe we can start to see a path through the trees, where we can start to make plans.”

Frow also challenged producers to work harder to come up with clever ways to restart productions within the strict parameters of government and ViacomCBS guidelines.

“What’s been disappointing is how few production companies are prepared to go that extra mile and do the interrogation needed to make a compelling case to continue or start filming. I would urge people who have projects on hiatus to rethink that,” he said.

He added that Channel 5 will not be able to honor every commission. “There are some programs that we have commissioned or were going to commission that will not happen,” he said. “That is the reality of where we are, money is tight… This is part of the price we’re all having to pay.”

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