Does C4's Emap deal signal the start of a major relationship?

LONDON - The phrase "getting into bed with" never seems appropriate to me when discussing a business deal. In that context, it's far too sexually suggestive.

I much prefer the never-used phrase "getting into the bath with". Surely there can be no harm done here? Just two friends washing off the collective dirt before forming a new relationship.

So, it's bathtime for Channel 4 and Emap, who have signed a joint-venture deal that involves Channel 4 paying just below £30 million for a 50 per cent stake in Emap's eight music channels. However, I suspect there's a lot of dirt to be washed away before this one can be declared a success.

There seemed to be a few sticking points before the deal was signed earlier this week. Mainly the position of Sky Media, which holds rights to sell airtime across the Emap TV channels until 2009. Oddly enough, it didn't like the idea of the channel's sales transferring to Channel 4 within its contract period. However, this situation looks to be resolved, with a Sky spokesman saying: "The Sky Media deal with the Emap portfolio of channels will continue for the remainder of the current contract."

That's alright then, but there remains the issue that Emap had more to lose if this deal had fallen through than Channel 4. Sources at Channel 4 sounded sanguine as last Friday arrived, the date at which the broadcaster could pull out of the deal if it had not been signed. Discussions with Sky were painted as "an issue for Emap", and Emap needed a good news story after months of sailing without any wind behind its sales (it must be said, though, that decision-making under the acting chief executive, Alun Cathcart, has seemed ten times swifter than under Tom Moloney, who left in May).

So, with Sky seemingly on board, they can all get on with promoting the brands. Of which The Hits, with its Freeview slot and 0.7 per cent total audience share in multichannel homes (a big deal in the music TV world), is the prize asset. This will be rebranded as 4Music in January and could become, in time, a significant revenue source for Channel 4.

The interesting issue within Emap, though, is how far this relationship with Channel 4 can be extended. Sources close to Emap say the TV joint venture was an obvious start because Emap's TV portfolio is a mature, profitable business that nonetheless requires an injection of new ideas as the market for viewers has become stagnant.

Insiders suggest Emap's next big discussion will surround the future of its radio brands and a similar joint venture with Channel 4. As one source says: "I would bet on the music brands, including magazines, moving into Channel 4."

With Channel 4's digital multiplex launching next year and with Sir Robin Miller, an ex-Emap chief, chairing the Channel 4 new-business board, this seems a distinct possibility.

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