Ch4 sees slide in audience share

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Channel 4 yesterday announced a strategic review with its audience share having slipped below the crucial 10 per cent figure under pressure from the rise of digital television and a strengthened ITV.

Mark Thompson, the channel's chief executive, was able to announce a three-fold increase in pre-tax profits to £45m, the network's best performance since 1999. This was partly down to the restructuring of Channel 4's commercial arm, 4Ventures, which recorded its first operating profit of £4.1m on ongoing businesses, compared with a loss of £17.7m on the same activities in 2002.

Channel 4 is still extricating itself from the joint venture behind the racing channel Attheraces, on which it lost £10.5m in 2003. Mr Thompson said he recognised the channel was facing "medium-term pressures" and was conducting a full strategic review. "Clearly the transfer of more and more households from terrestrial to digital [television] raises questions for Channel 4," he said.

He claimed that the current performance of the channel demonstrated that the "status quo strategy" was "pretty strong" but said that the network was looking at all its options, although privatisation was not one of them.

A report will be presented to the new chairman, Luke Johnson, and the Channel 4 board later this year, prior to talks being held with the communications regulator Ofcom about the channel's future. Channel 4 is celebrating BAFTA television awards won last weekend for two drama productions, the prison-based Buried and The Deal, which dramatised the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

However, its audience share has slipped to 9.6 per cent from 10.5 per cent in 2000, although peak-time share among 16-34-year-olds - a crucial demographic to the channel - has remained at 12.7 per cent.