Duncan’s successor faces new challenges

It has been a busy week in broadcasting, from CRR to product placement, to speculation that Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan had all but printed out his resignation letter.

The former Unilever marketer who joined the media company in July 2004 will leave the broadcaster at the end of what can only be described as a year of tremendous change and challenges.

While C4 under Duncan’s tenure has been widely lauded for its successful digital strategy and its increased share of TV viewing, his successor will be far from idle.

The new chief executive will have to contend with the fact that the Contract Right Renewal mechanism hamstringing ITV is likely to remain, preventing C4 from tying up with BSkyB’s ad sales team which would have provided it with some much needed cost savings.

Within days of the CRR news, it had also emerged that BBC was considering the part-privatisation of its commercial operations, BBC Worldwide, throwing cold water over negotiations C4 had been having with the latter over a possible joint venture. It seems a lot can happen in four months, with Duncan during a media briefing in May, proclaiming that he remained “confident” of a deal with BBC Worldwide.

Then there’s the Digital Britain report which many critics have attacked for not going far enough, and significantly for C4, it failed to put forward a plan for the proposed tie-up with BBC Worldwide.

Jumping forward to 2011, its big challenge will be to fill the void left by Big Brother which has been one of its main revenue raisers since it launched in 2000.

From a programming perspective, C4 director of television and content Kevin Lygo and ITV’s director of television, channels and content Peter Fincham, would seem two possible contenders for Duncan’s role.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards, and his predecessor, Lord Carter, the former communications minister and creator of the Digital Britain report, are also already being touted for the position.

Starcom, group trading director Chris Locke says historically, C4 has tapped people with a BBC background, namely Fincham and Michael Grade, the outgoing ITV chief executive and current executive chairman.

“It’s struck me that those who have come from the BBC get C4 better than those from the other broadcasters.

“They will need to bring someone in who has massive empathy with the channel. Someone with a strong belief in the type of programming it needs to maintain its quality and its difference,” Locke says.

With speculation that the search for the ITV chief executive role will end at former BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball, the shortlist for the C4 job may soon become even clearer.

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