Conor Dignam on Broadcasting

Channel 4 could end up payinga high price for £150m handout

Would you turn down a cheque for £150m? Probably not, but that may be the question facing Channel 4 chief Andy Duncan within the next few months – and the answer could depend on where the money is coming from – and what strings are attached. Channel 4, which last week reported a collapse in profits to £1.6m looks to have won the battle for new public funding beyond digital switchover.

It has convinced the once sceptical regulator Ofcom that it does indeed have a real and worrying future hole in its funding – and that without some form of further state aid over the next few years, it will have to begin commissioning less public service output such as Dispatches or Channel 4 News. Its case and credentials were further strengthened last week when it also picked up eight Baftas – including best single documentary for Lie of the Land and best current affairs programme for China's Stolen Children.

This ringing creative endorsement follows on nicely from last month's unveiling of its "Next on 4" strategy, which was a blueprint of its creative future in a fully digital age. It was an impressive presentation, with C4's leaders, including Duncan, creative chief Kevin Lygo, and chairman Luke Johnson all making powerful and passionate cases for the channel's importance and future in PSB.

MPs at the event offered cross-party support for their cause, which given the political backlash against C4 after the Celebrity Big Brother racism row of January 2007, seems quite remarkable. More than that, sitting in the front seat of the audience at Horseferry Road, was Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards, who pretty much signalled that C4 had gone though the kind of creative renewal and rethink that the regulator wanted to see, and that its reward would be arriving fairly shortly in the form of public funding.

All of which is good news for C4, and on the face of it, good and welcome news for public service broadcasting. C4, despite an over-reliance over the past few years on property shows, Big Brother, and formats that had past their sell-by date, is enormously important for British broadcasting. As its Bafta performance demonstrates, it has a record of punching above the weight of its budgets when it comes to stand-out programming, and launching new talent and shows.

But the big question is whether Duncan's campaign to help secure C4's digital future will ultimately help or hurt the channel itself – and whether the cost of accepting a direct £150m public handout might actually prove to be too high for C4.

Originally Duncan's clearly stated preferred form of new support for C4 was through indirect subsidy – such as gifting the channel more spectrum to provide services such as high definition television. But increasingly it looks likely that Ofcom and the Treasury would rather not create any more public funding for broadcasters, thank you very much, when they've already got the BBC and its £3.5bn licence fee. Which suggests for some, that the current Public Service Review taking place will inevitably move towards the conclusion that C4 is the main source of PSB competition and plurality to the BBC – and hence giving it a slice of the BBC's cash is the simplest and most logical conclusion. The fact that C4 argues it needs £150m or so, and this is exactly the "surplus" funding the BBC will have once digital switchover costs end, makes the arithmetic pretty straightforward too. The fly in the ointment of course is that direct funding from the licence fee risks killing off what C4 was designed to be in the first place – a public broadcaster – but with real financial and editorial independence from the state that owns it. Tying C4 directly to the licence fee would seriously risk stifling its creativity and dulling its edge, leaving us with a weaker and less confident broadcaster. C4 over the years has escaped both the level of external scrutiny and internal hand-wringing that goes with the status of national broadcaster and direct public funds.

Even within C4 there are those who suspect that taking public funds directly from the licence fee would be too high a price to pay for the money involved. And whilst C4 has worked hard at its creative and commercial operation to justify its case for public funds, there may still be more to do. Its investment in radio for example now looks highly questionable. Why is it going into a digital radio business that everyone else is struggling to make money from?

They say you should be careful what you wish for and that looks likely to apply to C4 if the answer to its plea is direct public funding. Because that would mean funding for C4 at the direct expense of the BBC – and that would be a poor outcome for both, potentially weakening both of our most significant public service broadcasters.

Why taking RDF private again makes sense in these troubled times

The move by the management of independent production company RDF Media to take the company private again, after listing on the Stock Exchange three years ago, is no real surprise. The company floated with a value of £50m and before the announcement sent the share price up, was trading at a market cap of £40m.

The indie was enjoying a golden period when it first floated, with shows such as Wife Swap selling around the world and enjoying both critical and commercial success. But it has struggled to deliver another major format with the same impact and the City has fallen out of love with independents as the economy has grown more difficult and the vagaries of the TV commissioning market have become more apparent.

RDF used the injection of money after flotation to build a bigger group and grow its position as a "super-indie" – acquiring IWC Media, Touchpaper, Presentable, Radar TV, The Foundation and The Comedy Unit. But creative companies started by entrepreneurs who have built a business doing things their way, will often struggle with the restrictions and expectations of life as a listed business. It has been a tough few months for RDF. A messy falling out with former IWC chief Alan Clements, that ended up in a court battle (which RDF won) ended up in dreadful press headlines for all involved.

Then the 'Crowngate affair' saw RDF creative chief Stephen Lambert forced to resign after editing a promo film to suggest the Queen had stormed out of a photoshoot, when in fact she was walking in. The resulting row saw both the BBC and ITV halt all commissions from RDF – a ban that lasted several months but has now ended.

But for all its difficulties RDF remains an excellent business with some great talent in it. Whilst not having quite the same impact as Wife Swap, its recent format The Secret Millionaire has been very successful. Removing itself from the stock market could be just the right move to give it more space and time to refocus on new ideas and commissions.

If RDF delists then it may be only a matter of time before Shed, the company behind shows such as Waterloo Road, which floated around the same time as RDF, follows suit.

Conor Dignam is publishing director of Broadcast

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
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 Media

Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager ...

Graduate Sales Executive

Up to £24k + Commission: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Premium Ad Verification C...

Agency Sales /Senior Sales Manager

£40,000 - £65,000 + commission : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Great opportunity...

Marketing Manager

£26 - 32k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Manager is needed to join a unique and ex...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style