C4 plans £90m investment in multi-channel expansion

LONDON – Channel 4 is putting £90m behind a series of new ventures, including the launch of several digital channels, as it aims to retain its share of viewing in the multi-channel market.

According to the Times, a number of new digital channels are to be launched this year, with comedy, music and factual-themed stations all being considered.

Rob Woodward, commercial director of Channel 4, has said it has not yet been decided whether the channels will be free to air or subscription based.

However, he has confirmed that an advertising-financed channel, More 4, will be the first to be launched early next year. The channel will be aimed at older ABC1 viewers and will be carried on digital terrestrial service Freeview as well as satellite TV.

The move comes as Channel 4 is re-examining its business model and future place in British broadcasting amid increasing pressure from a resurgent ITV and multi-channel TV. This has also led to talks with Five about a possible full-blown merger or combination of sales operations.

The new ventures follow two years of restructuring at the channel's commercial arm 4 Ventures, home to digital channels such as E4 and FilmFour. Woodward was brought on board three years ago to head the restructure after an expensive over-expansion. The 4 Ventures board also includes chief executive Mark Thompson and the channel's new chairman Luke Johnson.

Yesterday the division announced that it had made an operating profit for the first time. Its pre-tax profit was £4.1m last year, compared with losses of £17.7m in 2002. Channel 4, which reports its overall results next Tuesday, aims to double its 4 Venture's profits this year.

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