Channel 4 chief David Abraham on new creative network Hiive and how the sector must continue to develop to remain competitive

Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham has highlighted the imperative that the UK creative sector continue to keep up developing its skills in order that it ‘remain competitive’ while discussing the launch of a new online network, Hiive.

Talking to The Drum about the network, which Channel 4 has backed alongside Google, Facebook and Sky, in order to connect the nation’s creative industry across all backgrounds and jobs, Abraham underlined that the site was not simply for newcomers to the industry, but for anyone not depending on experience.

Abraham said the tool, which includes the ability for members to ask the rest of the community questions, post How To videos and view jobs adverts, could allow all creative and media professionals to move towards the level of their careers.

“What Hive is about, it’s creating a digital tool to allow these sectors to perform at an even higher level by attracting the best talent and allowing it to flourish in the most frictionless way possible,” he explained.

The launch of Hiive, which had been operating recently in Beta, sees it begin with 6,000 members and over 100 job placements, having been backed by Creative Skillset, which Abraham is a board member of, as part of a £37m round of funding that was won by it and several companies last year to strengthen the sector.

"It’s using the power of social networks to work in the new world and it addresses a number of challenges, one of them being that the creative industries is quite fragmented, it’s very freelance based and convergence is such a huge factor…We haven’t been able up until now to connect different corners of different industries, whether it is fashion or advertising or film and television, design and computer games.

He continued: “The geographical element of this is really important because we are seeking strategically to address a number of issues around geographical diversity but also diversity in all its forms and make sure it’s not a matter of who you know but what you can impart.”

Abraham was positive about the Government’s role in supporting the growth of the creative sector; “I’ve heard successive Secretaries of State acknowledge the importance of TV and film in particular, and they have given tax breaks in recent years which have helped stimulate growth. My sense of central Government is that there is quite a good grasp of the importance to the creative economy, and the value added in the creative economy and it’s also, what some politicians describe as ‘soft power’ on the international stage, for exports of IT and talent around the world - whether it is acting talent or writing. There is a reasonable, joined-up appreciation of how this ecology works and how people play their part.”

Discussing the growth of talent being discovered through online platforms such as YouTube, Abraham admitted that this was a great place for people to now begin their careers, but added that he believed the best would always look to progress onto television to reach bigger audiences and budgets. He also cited other roles within the creative industries that should be remembered, such as computer animators, lighting experts, camera men, technicians and developers.

“In terms of economics of industry, let’s remember how important things like computer games are and computer design and animation and fashion and advertising are to the actual creative sector and the exports of the UK,” he elaborated.

Of the ability to create content on smaller budgets, through hand held devices and cheap software, Abraham was also positive; “There is so much more that can be done, literally from people’s bedrooms, which is a wonderful thing, but at the same time there has always been a migration into longer-form content that has a higher budget and requires bigger teams and what we’ve done with internet creativity is to open up another route in. But you can see that those people now want to connect more broadly and they recognise that they want to get to the next level of budgets and projects and scale.

"Pretty much everyone on Hive has a showreel, that’s not the challenge. That was pretty much unheard of before, that you could do that from your bedroom, so it’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also created more competition, more means for people to connect and differentiate themselves, more way for them to develop their skills - then nothing stands still. The skills this generation has today will have to be continued for the decades ahead for us to remain competitive as a country.”

Abraham also briefly discussed how Channel 4 was continuing to build its digital audience, with 12 million registered users of 4OD, it’s online streaming service, and he touched upon the broadcaster's plan to expand its online proposition through the launch of All4 in the coming months.

“We continually work with talent and part of the reason for Channel 4 is to help to discover new talent and it’s an escalator, and that is across the piece whether it’s at Film4 or in drama. If we have a 30-year old who has made some short films, now what is the next level? If you take someone like Yann Demange who directed 'Top Boy' leading to him doing '71' which leads to him making it out in Hollywood, it’s the kind of thing that makes you think beyond the first 10 years. Hive is a tool that is not only about entry level development but it is as relevant for people in their 40 sand 50s who are further on in their career and it shouldn’t be thought of as a tool for an apprenticeship environment because while it will have that it is designed to do through the decades.”

A live event to promote the launch of Hiive will be held today (8 March) which, alongside Abraham, will also be attended by Tamara How, controller of Business, Comedy & Entertainment at the BBC, broadcaster and columnist, Caitlin Moran and Caroline Rush, chief executive of British Fashion Council, among others supporting the platform.