Media Perspective: Odds were stacked against C4's radio gamble from the off

Should we really care that Channel 4 has pulled the plug on its radio plans?

While it's sad for those directly involved and an embarrassing U-turn from an organisation that is already under the cosh, it could be argued that its decision is the right one and will have little significant impact on advertisers.

Last Friday, Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, confirmed what many suspected was inevitable: that it was scrapping plans to launch three Channel 4-branded digital radio stations, including a BBC Radio 4-style spoken-word channel.

The move will generate cost savings of at least £10 million, with Channel 4 saying that 15 jobs will go as the radio project falls by the wayside. Among them will be the commercial director role recently accepted by the former GCap sales director Simon Daglish, who will be leaving before he even got started. Hopefully his talents will enable him to resurface before long, but it's bad for Daglish and others that Channel 4 has handled this matter shoddily, letting uncertainty over the radio launch drift for so long before pulling the plug.

The surprise to me is that it bothered in the first place. Radio, especially at the quality end of the market inhabited by the BBC, is a difficult and potentially costly thing to get right and Channel 4 has no experience of doing it. It was hard to see its spoken-word offering matching that of existing BBC stations, so what was the point? It may have hoped to generate some extra ad revenues along the way, but it was difficult to find any real enthusiasm for the move among key advertisers or media agencies.

Duncan cites the "drastic recent downturn in our revenues" for the decision to pull out of radio, but it also looked strikingly odd, and almost unseemly, that Channel 4 was investing in new, non-core, services at a time when Duncan was going to the Government with begging bowl in hand for extra public subsidy. On the whole, Duncan and his team have been admirably focused on Channel 4's core TV offer, continuing the process of retrenching from the diversified 4Ventures structure implemented by the former chief executive Michael Jackson. This is the right strategy during tough times, but within all this, the radio plans seemed an aberration.

Channel 4 shouldn't be criticised for getting out but for being there in the first place. And then for not getting out when it had the chance in March, at the moment Duncan unveiled plans for Channel 4's strategic direction ahead of Ofcom's PSB consultation. This could prove a significant setback for commercial digital radio, which is still struggling to get off the back foot. But let the City-funded radio specialists sort this out - Channel 4 has greater concerns.

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