British TV broadcaster Channel 4 is seeking guidance from an outside source on its future plans.

It has hired global investment bank UBS to review its strategic options, a move which has fuelled speculation that Channel 4 may be preparing to move forward with its proposed merger plans with rival broadcaster Five.

Chairman Luke Johnson views a merger as a means of protecting Channel 4's audience share, which stands at 13% in non-digital homes but only 7–8% in digital households.

Although state-owned, the broadcaster is funded entirely by advertising, so a dip in viewing figures can spell trouble for its profits. Despite this, the forecast for 2004 is optimistic following a recovery last year in which profits reached £45 million ($83m; €67.6m).

Johnson is also keen to establish a degree of financial independence from the UK government, which will have to alter existing laws should Channel 4 decide to complete the merger with Five.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff