Amid Merger Talk, Channel 4's Duncan Wraps Himself in the Flag

21 January 2009

LONDON: The ultimate solution to the funding problems of UK public-service broadcaster Channel 4 must reject acquisition overtures from  foreign-owned companies and focus on what's "best for Britain", avers ceo Andy Duncan (pictured).

Having earlier this week rejected merger soundings from Luxembourg-headquartered RTL Group
Duncan set-out his stall of ambitions in Monday's Financial Times, claiming that any savings from a merger with Five, RTL's cash-haemorrhaging UK network, would be swamped by the latter's losses.

And although state-owned C4 itself is on course for losses of up to £150 million ($218.56m; €165.8m) annually by 2012, Duncan remains choosy as to who hooks his operation out of trouble.

Unsurprisingly he prefers the British taxpayer – or more accurately the taxpayer's proxy, the BBC – as C4's saviour. The BBC, however, is less eager, having cash problems of its own.

What Duncan would like – really, really like – is a sweetheart deal with the BBC's commercial unit BBC Worldwide, as he explained in his FT article ….

"Consolidation could only be part of the solution if it takes place within a new industry structure – and only after that structure is in place.

"Even then, if the subject is Five, the limited and short-term cost savings would largely be swallowed by offsetting Five's increasing losses and Channel 4's contribution to public service broadcasting would diminish.

"The future must be about maximising the value of our content. This is an industry going through profound structural change and the cyclical downturn has thrown that into relief.

“Forget RTL or what a particular foreign company wants to achieve through all this ... first of all these are big structural issues so they have to be addressed through big structural solutions: point one.

"And point two: it should be done through the prism of what's best for Britain. And I mean that in its broadest sense both economically and in social, cultural value."

Most UK broadcasters are jockeying for position as communications regulator Ofcom today (Wednesday) delivers its recommendations to politicos Andy Burnham (secretary to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and recently ennobled communications minister Lord Stephen Carter.

The former will respond Thursday.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff