Channel 4 to axe 200 jobs as it refocuses on programming

LONDON - The launch of Channel 4's winter schedule was overshadowed by the news of 200 jobs being axed, as the broadcaster attempts to shore up its shaky finances.

Fifty jobs have already been axed from loss-making digital channel FilmFour, with another 100-150 jobs to go at the channel's headquarters in Horseferry Road, where 1,000 work. The channel's payroll has increased significantly in recent years.

Channel 4's head of strategy David Brook is leaving as part of the restructuring.

Chief executive Mark Thompson yesterday announced a record programming budget of £430m for 2003, although he refused to speculate on the future of poor performing shows such as Richard and Judy and breakfast programme RI:SE.

Channel 4 insiders have claimed that Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, poached from ITV to front Channel 4's early evening programme, may return to ITV if as expected they are axed by Channel 4.

Thompson intends to slash overheads by a third on 2000 levels and to use the savings for the programming budget, calling the changes "the biggest creative reinvention of Channel 4 in its history".

The group, which suffered a £28m loss last year, has forecast a 4% increase in advertising budgets this year after revenues fell from £638m to £605m in 2001.

"From now on, we're never going to forget that the most important thing we do is Channel 4," said Thompson, admitting the channel had been distracted by its digital ventures FilmFour and E4.

Channel 5 recently beat Channel 4 prime-time ratings for the first time, having improved its profile with arts and documentaries scheduled in peak time, as well as buying in high-profile film premieres for week-day peak-time broadcast.

Thompson criticised Channel 5's schedules for "avoidance of originality at any cost", but Channel 5's head of programming Kevin Lygo hit back, saying: "If he thinks his channel's original, he's got problems."

Lygo also advised Thompson to be upfront about the future of Richard and Judy and to tell the presenters whether they had a future at the channel.

Channel 4's director of programming Tim Gardam said the new schedule would see spending on original drama tripled compared to this year.

Channel 4 last week announced the axing of its main soap Brookside from weekday schedules as part of the overhaul of programming.

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