In the eye of a media revolution

TTHE MONDAY INTERVIEW: MICHAEL GRADE: As takeover fever engulfs commercial TV will Michael Grade, and Channel 4, remain in the public service?

Rumours of television takeovers swirl around the media sector like the cigar smoke that circles Michael Grade's head. But the 53-year- old chief executive of Channel 4 needn't fear that his own company will succumb. Whatever the outcome of the current consolidation in commercial television, the public service broadcaster remains aloof and protected.

Still, the media revolution is bound to have an effect on the way Channel 4 is run, a point Mr Grade concedes. "In the new environment, we have to play to our strengths," he says. That means providing quality programming, with due regard to "minority tastes", and continuing the fourth channel's commitment to the British film industry, of which Mr Grade is particularly proud.

Mr Grade, quintessentially a television man, is never less than relaxed and confident. Receiving the Independent recently at Channel 4's "love it or hate it" modern building in Horseferry Road, just adrift from the sprawl of London's Victoria Station, his first manoeuvre is to secure a cigar from the ample supply on his desk. He then strides to a low, long table in the large corner office, and leans back far enough to test his chairback severely.

Mr Grade is never long without a cigar. Nor do many minutes pass before the conversation turns to his favourite subject, some say his obsession - the "funding formula".

In the arcane world of British television, there are many anomalies. None can be more contentious, and as worthy of such a long, drawn out debate, as the way Channel 4 and ITV share advertising revenues. When the fourth terrestrial channel was launched 15 years ago, the Government was concerned about its viability. A complicated funding formula was established, whereby ITV companies would be required to bail out the channel if problems arose. Conversely, if the new service proved a wild success, a certain proportion of revenues would be paid to ITV.

So successful has the channel been, particularly in recent years, that Mr Grade has forked out pounds 169m to ITV, including pounds 74m last year alone. Its reserve fund now tops pounds 80m.

Two years ago, Mr Grade went on the warpath, mounting a relentless campaign to force the Government into scrapping the formula. Earlier this year, he won at least part of the battle: the Government is to cap the reserve fund, and will look at phasing out payments to ITV starting in 1999.

"We seem to have won the intellectual argument, certainly," Mr Grade says. "We have been arguing these points for some time, and have finally got some recognition for our view."

The capping of the fund will provide Mr Grade with pounds 17m additional revenues this year, that he says will be spent on programming. "Our priorities will be more money for films, more drama, and we definitely seek to have an aggressive and original daytime schedule. We also want to reduce the percentage of repeats."

Channel 4 Films has been a particularly fruitful sideline for the broadcaster. Mr Grade and his team have financed, fully or jointly, a number of films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, the mega-hit, The Madness of King George, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

In its mainstream operations, Channel 4 has not escaped controversy, however. Famously dubbed Britain's "pornographer-in-chief" because of his string of provocative programmes (The Word, the Red Light Zone), Mr Grade strenuously defends the channel.

One can hardly fault the ratings. When Mr Grade joined Channel 4 in 1988, the service had an audience share of 8.3 per cent. It is now hovering at about 11 per cent.

Nor can one doubt the talent of Channel 4's assembled programmers, some of the best in the business. Mr Grade is proud to the point of arrogance about the stable of talent nurtured over the years. Channel 5, the new terrestrial service launching next year, managed to pinch one such Mr Grade protegee, Dawn Airey, formerly with Childrens' BBC, then controller of arts at Channel 4, and now C5's head of programming.

"For a long time now, C4 has been the nursery for the entire industry. We plucked Dawn Airey from the children's ghetto at BBC. We developed Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, which is now going to BBC1, although without [host] Chris Evans."

His victory in the funding debate more or less assured, what will Mr Grade do now? His many friends in broadcasting wonder how long he will be willing to stay at a public service broadcaster. A journalist by training, he spent a few years at the Daily Mirror in the 1960s, including a stint as a sport columnist. His television career included a long stretch at LWT and then the coveted job of Controller of BBC1. Surely there is another move to come?

Well paid at pounds 450,000 a year, he is nowhere near as wealthy as some of his contemporaries in UK television - men such as Sir Christopher Bland, now Chairman of the BBC or Greg Dyke, the head of Pearson Television, who both made millions out of controversial share options at LWT.

Mr Grade missed the gravy train, having left LWT before Granada's hostile bid in 1993, which triggered the lucrative share options. There are some who believe he would like to see Channel 4 privatised, giving him the chance of a windfall. Indeed, the campaign against the funding formula seemed to many a first step in making a case for a privatised status.

Mr Grade denies all this. "We will remain public service broadcasters, because there will be a demand for it and an audience for it," he says.

Still, there is more than a hint of frustration in his apparent jealousy of private-sector colleagues. "At Channel 4, we are committed to programming, and no one is getting fabulously wealthy."

Mr Grade reckons he has plenty to work on in coming years. The introduction of Channel 5 will pose a competitive threat, while the introduction of digital television will require careful planning.

"I can't think of anything else I would like to do," he says. "This is an amazing place to be. It is an intellectual challenge, and there is still a lot to play for."

Suggested Topics
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
Band was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Tom Cleverley
Loan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Extras
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering