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
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice