Channel 4 has announced BBC Newsnight editor Ian Katz as the surprise choice to be its new director of programmes, effectively replacing the role held by former creative chief Jay Hunt who has since joined Apple TV’s European wing.
Katz, once deputy editor of the Guardian, has a firm grounding in the news scene but came from leftfield as a candidate for the vacant role which will include commissioning factual and scripted content.
The move marks the first major hire from new chief executive Alex Mahon, who only took up her post this week after beating Hunt to the top job.
Mahon said: “Ian is an inspirational leader who assiduously builds and nurtures talented and empowered teams. He has fantastic instincts and intelligence, huge editorial strength and is a proven creative and digital innovator, who lives and breathes the Channel 4 values.”
At Newsnight, Katz oversaw investigations into current affairs across lifestyle, sport, arts and entertainment categories, sectors he will now be charged with commissioning programming for.
He said: “I’m impossibly excited to be joining a broadcaster whose unique combination of innovation, risk-taking and elan I have admired for decades as a viewer - and more recently as a frequently envious rival. Channel 4’s deeply held values and relentlessly challenging sensibility have never been more important or relevant and I feel incredibly privileged to play a part in shaping the next stage of its remarkable journey.”
Simon Kingsmill, head of investment at December19 told The Drum the move was a "shock". He said it "underscores the ambition that Channel 4 will have under new chief executive Alex Mahon.
He said that Katz is a name which resonates beyond the offices of the Guardian and Newsnight. "Advertisers and media agencies bosses will know him as a heavy-hitter and know that he wouldn’t have left his high-profile role at Newsnight unless it was for a step up. Yes, he has no experience of commissioning programming but he will no doubt surround himself with people who do and can advise him."
Kingsmill underlined the importance of getting a big name in to replace the Jay Hunt, "this demonstrates that Channel 4 is not an organisation in which the BBC and bigger commercial rivals can cherry pick talent from.@
He concluded: “Advertisers want to know that top, well-qualified executives are at the helm of programming and with Katz Chanel 4 have got that."
Katz will join the broadcaster in January, replacing Ralph Lee who served in the role in an interim period since Hunt announced her resignation in June. Hunt will join Apple as creative director for video in January.
The BBC marked the move with a statement.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) October 31, 2017