Media Perspective: Ofcom could extend an olive branch to C4 ready for 2010

Jonathan Durden proved not to be the most controversial reality contestant of the week. The real-life antics of the self-confessed former gigolo, now starring in the Big Brother house, were knocked into a cocked hat by certain participants on the ITV show Britain's Got Talent.

First, a George Formby impersonator was exposed as a sex offender (predictable tabloid headline "Britain's got perverts") and then three pre-op transsexuals, who were part of the act Kit Kat Dolls, were outed by the News of the World as working prostitutes and booted off the show. The show's creator and judge Simon Cowell was said to be "livid", but ITV's experience just demonstrates the inherent risks of giving members of the great British public a platform. Not that the audience seemed to mind. Viewing for the semi-final and final of Britain's Got Talent seemed to leap as a result of the publicity.

And over at Channel 4, the channel's commercial bosses were breathing a sigh of relief that Britain's Got Talent, which attracted a massive 11 million audience for its Sunday finale, had ended. But critics are speculating that viewers have had enough of the vacuous characters in Big Brother (Durden, being over 40 and labelled an "old man" by rivals in the house, is obviously an exception). Apparently, what viewers want is more of the homespun charms of Britain's Got Talent, where a six-year-old girl was beaten in the final by a portly Welsh opera singer.

For the time being, Big Brother remains a cash cow for Channel 4, accounting for 15 per cent of its group revenues, according to its deputy chairman, Lord Puttnam. But Puttnam hinted recently that the show would be binned once the broadcaster can find an alternative revenue stream. And that might come via an olive branch extended by Ofcom.

Channel 4 has had the begging bowl out for a while now, and last week Ofcom conceded that it may have a case in requiring extra financial support after 2010 because its ability to deliver on its remit is "likely to come under sustained pressure" as it moves into the digital age. However, it called for the Channel 4 board to "significantly develop the ways in which it assesses the broadcaster's remit delivery and public service contribution" ahead of this.

Andy Duncan, Channel 4's chief executive, seems about the only person not to interpret this as a veiled criticism on its supposed dumbing down in recent years. Instead of cancelling Big Brother, he's pushing for the contribution made by its improved online operations to be taken into account when measuring its delivery. Big Brother's short-term future may be assured, but rival broadcasters will be watching Ofcom and Channel 4 like hawks to ensure that handouts don't unbalance the playing field of commercial broadcasting any more than is necessary.

Topics