Media: Lifeline - Channel 4

Launched to cater to minority interests, the channel's financial future is now being hotly debated. 1982: Launched as the first new UK television channel in more than a decade, Channel 4 is given a remit to "... appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for (by other channels), encourage innovation and experiment and be distinctive." Vauxhall is the first advertiser and Countdown, the first programme. The launch chief executive, Jeremy Isaacs, finds the remit easy to implement; his successor, Michael Grade, less so.

1999: Grade's successor, Michael Jackson, announces that Channel 4 is no longer a "minority channel"and launches the digital channel E4 and a family of FilmFour. These ambitious plans demand heavy investment funding and the group moves into the red.

2002: Jackson departs for a plum job in US television and the new chief executive, Mark Thompson, arrives with an axe. FilmFour's production side, which had funded films including The Madness of King George, is the highest-profile casualty as he begins to restore order to the group's finances. He announces that Channel 4 will dump its best-known show, the soap Brookside.

July 2004: Thompson departs to become director-general of the BBC while Andy Duncan moves the other way to become Channel 4's chief executive. Duncan, a former Unilever marketer, is the first Channel 4 boss to have no programme production or commissioning experience.

November 2004: A new debate about the future of Channel 4 funding begins, with the deputy chairman, Barry Cox, calling for more public investment. Isaacs and the channel's former chairman Vanni Treves claim that its output has become tawdry and repetitive. This provokes its director of programmes, Kevin Lygo, into a rant about the cultural significance of its reality show Big Brother.

Fast forward - 2006: Faced with a choice between becoming part of an enlarged family of publicly funded public-service broadcasting channels or striking out as a fully commercial entity, Channel 4 chooses the latter route after Duncan falls out with former allies at the BBC over co-operation with the Beeb's commercial arm. It is forced into a joint venture with the Hallmark Channel after Sky and five announce a sales tie-up.

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