Thompson urges C4/Five merger

BBC director-general Mark Thompson has supported a merger between Channel 4 and Five to plug C4’s future funding gap. Thompson today (January 12) called on the government to support the industry with “the right kind” of public-private collaboration.

Thompson, writing in today’s Financial Times, says that “top-slicing” the licence fee, one of a series of proposals put forward to help fund C4, was inadequate and risked undermining the “last strong part of the system” and breaking the public’s connection between the BBC and the licence fee.

He says a merger would offer both long and short-term benefits such as cost savings and an increase in scale across advertising sales and programme acquisition.

“If the goal is sustainable public service broadcasting beyond the BBC in the long term, consolidation may be part of the solution,” says Thompson, who as chief executive of C4 in 2004 favoured a merger with Five.

Channel 4 faces a £150m financial shortfall in the run-up to digital switchover and the Government is looking at options including privatising the broadcaster, giving it a portion of the BBC licence fee or raising more public cash.

Thompson also says that most serious challenge is how public service television can migrate to digital platforms and “stimulate demand for universal high-speed broadband”.

Thompson adds: “The industry must now take the critical steps towards the major restructuring without which it cannot thrive in the UK or compete internationally. What UK broadcasting needs is the same as the rest of the economy: simplification, consolidation and the right kind of public-private collaboration.”

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