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C4 chief concerned about audience data

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Channel 4 logo at Channel 4 Headquarters

© Rex Features

Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham has urged Ofcom to investigate the control of audience data, after warning that the information could be "commercially exploited" by others at the expense of the public service broadcasters.

Abraham described audience data as the "new oil, or soil, of television", but also noted that "TV audiovisual viewing" is increasingly splintering on to digital platforms.

Speaking at a Royal Television Society dinner last night, Abraham said: "I don't think the penny has dropped about who is controlling the data. Who's controlling the data and who has access to it?

"In my view this should be a central issue in Ofcom's proposed review of airtime trading. Future ad sales models are unclear but two things are certain - change is likely and data is becoming more important."

Abraham pointed to recent Channel 4 research as indicating that around two-thirds of "TV audiovisual content" will be "tracked intelligently" across TV, PC and mobile by 2020.

He expressed concern that the public service broadcasters - ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - have not yet "grasped that our data is a public asset".

"I believe that it is essential for the future of Channel 4 - and of PSB in general - that we ensure that the data that exists around content we generate with our creative partners is not simply controlled and commercially exploited by other platforms, whoever they are," he said.

Abraham hopes to persuade viewers to share their customer information with PSBs in the same way as they do with pay-TV platforms. He said that this anonymous data could then be used to "secure advertising support".

"Of course, first and foremost, the data that is generated by these new activities belongs to our viewers," he said.

"If they are willing to give us permission to share some of their anonymised data to secure advertising support, then we can invest the proceeds in original, risk-taking and imaginative content."

In January, Abraham completed his new executive team with the promotion of Channel 4 director of strategy Gill Pritchard to the newly-created role of director of audience, technology and insight.

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