C4 chief calls for public funds

Channel 4's Andy Duncan seized the platform at the Oxford Media Convention to make his case.

Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, has renewed his plea for public funding for the state-owned commercial broadcaster.

Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention last Thursday, Duncan said: "I will not let Channel 4 become anoth-er Sainsbury's or Marks & Spencer by becoming complacent with a business plan that works today but fails in ten years' time."

Despite currently being profitable, Channel 4 estimates that in ten years it will face a £100 million funding gap. Duncan said those who believed the advertiser-funded broadcaster would not need public money were guilty of "lazy thinking".

Duncan has put a £30 million profit target on Channel 4's commercial arm, 4Ventures, putting it on a par with its counterparts at BBC Worldwide.

However, he said the channel should receive indirect funding to bolster its revenue in the longer term as ad revenues diminish with the increased penetration of multichannel TV and personal video recorders.

He stressed that he would prefer the money to take the form of indirect support, such as from the sale of spectrum, rather than a direct government grant. Duncan also announced plans to launch a broadband interactive channel later this year. This follows the launch of More4, which will show original programming and was described by Duncan as acting as a "little sister" to the main channel.

Jane Lighting, the chief executive of five, displayed little sympathy for Duncan's plight. "Channel 4 is commissioning more and more Big Brother-type lifestyle programmes, rather than the public-service-oriented shows that used to sit at the heart of its schedule," she said.

She warned that if Channel 4 were given the role of running the Public Service Publisher - a service that Ofcom wants to see launched to provide plurality and keep the BBC in check - it would boost its budget by two-thirds, damaging five's business.

With a proposed budget of £400 million, the PSP is one of the most controversial elements of Ofcom's review into public-service broadcasting. Ed Richards, the Ofcom senior partner charged with leading the PSB review, said the content should ideally be distributed as widely as possible on computer servers and broadband, as well as traditional digital TV platforms.

While he welcomed Duncan's ambition for Channel 4, Richards' response to the idea that it should receive public money was lukewarm. "There are good reasons to be cautious about delving into state help for Channel 4," he said.