Conor Dignam On Broadcasting: Cutbacks by Channel 4 look like a strategy to get more public funds

Channel 4 has let it be known to producers and journalists that belts are being tightened at Horseferry Road and that cuts are on the way. There's no great surprise here, everyone in the world of commercial media is feeling the pinch and pressure on budgets will be an inevitable consequence of a downturn in the advertising markets. But how hard is C4 really being hit – and how much is its "budget cutting" part of its long-running strategy to persuade the Government and regulator Ofcom that it needs access to public funds?

Well, the downturn in the advertising market is real enough. C4 insiders are suggesting that commercial revenues are set to be down 15 per cent in September compared to last year, with a similar fall expected in October. According to C4, the first cuts will be around the edges of the programming schedule and budget – with Cutting Edge and Dispatches (public service flagships) protected, but the Sunday teen strand T4 (not much pubic service there) taking the first hit.

C4 will air fewer new shows this year, increase its level of repeats and cost cutting will be felt across the C4 family of channels, C4, E4, More 4 and Film Four, which between them account for a commissioning spend of around £600m. Last year C4 said it was cutting the amount it spent on US imports to pump more money into original commissioning. Now it is saying that the original commissioning budget is going to decrease, and that decline is likely to continue for the next few years.

C4 has some scope for moving its numbers around to look like cuts are being introduced when the real amount of money being spent with independent producers has not immediately dropped. The cost of a programme being made is only counted in the broadcaster's annual budget as a true "cost" if the programme has been aired.

That means C4 can effectively show "savings" this year, despite not reducing its real spend with independent producers. But C4 maintains that in the end, next year, if not this, it will be spending less money on original production – and these are real cuts.

It's pretty grim stuff, and a sign that the credit-crunched housing market is really beginning to bite when it comes to advertising revenues. But where other commercial broadcasters such as ITV and Five might be trying to talk up the market as much as they can, it clearly suits C4's purposes to use the economic downturn to drive home its message that it can't sustain its public service role without new public funds. There is a PR push going on with C4 and, while this warning may in many respects be real, it also plays strongly to the aim of that campaign.

All of which brings us back to the question of why C4 is planning to spend millions on a new digital radio venture, while at the same time cutting back in its core function. C4 has resisted being pinned down on exact numbers on what it is spending, but the investment plan for its new digital radio offering is understood to have come down from somewhere around £20m to less than half that figure now.

C4 bosses will insist that in the great scheme of things this is not a huge investment and it should not be diverted from a strategy that makes sense to move its media brand into different markets. C4 has form here too, as David Elstein pointed out in a speech at the London School of Economics last week. C4 has spent around £200m over the last decade or so on pay-TV ventures that are all now all free to air, and film ventures that have been dramatically downscaled. These investments have been far from transparent, and C4's later strategic U-turns have not been widely remarked upon by politicians and regulators.

Now C4 wants to move into digital radio, while threatening cuts to funding in its core purpose and public remit of providing television content.

Radio was notably absent from the Next On 4 strategy presentation C4 made a few months ago about how it was rejuvenating its public role and purpose. The E4 radio channel will be the first to launch – and the signs are that this will still go ahead. But I suspect the chances of C4 launching a speech radio service – one of the key things that won them the licence from Ofcom in the first place – are now much reduced. On one level that would be a shame. C4 would bring something new and hopefully innovative to speech radio. But there clearly comes a point when the cost outweighs the advantages of the new areas C4 can enter. It can no longer plead poverty with one breath and talk about spending millions of pounds entering new markets with another.

Spending millions on new radio ventures while cutting spending on television content simply isn't acceptable; at some point soon C4 will have to significantly reduce or scrap its radio plans – reflecting the economic realities it keeps reminding everyone else about.





Setanta nets an own goal with England fans

Who would have thought it? England fans up in arms because they can't see highlights of England in a World Cup qualifier; Gordon Brown getting involved in the row; and ITV screening highlights of the game – more than 24 hours after it was played.

Setanta took some brickbats last week after failing to do a deal with a terrestrial broadcaster to allow the highlights of England's match with Croatia to be shown on the night of the game. Setanta, which has paid many millions for the rights to these games needs them to turn into subscription drivers, so it's little surprise that they were hanging tough in negotiations with terrestrial broadcasters. In the end, 1.5m watched the game live on Setanta and 220,000 watched unencrypted highlights that the channel broadcast late on Wednesday night – but which the majority of viewers couldn't see.

England fans were upset before the match that there would be no free to air highlights, but the expectation was England would disappoint, and there wouldn't be much to miss. But then of course England did something, well, completely out of character – they played incredibly well and won 4-1. Then everyone, after the event, wished they'd seen those goals go in, and bemoaned the fact that the BBC and ITV, who can both lavish millions on rubbish, couldn't find enough down the back of the sofa to stump up to watch the three lions roar. England fans apparently chanted "We hate Setanta" from the terraces of the match in Croatia (Sky must have loved that).

Finally, a deal got done and ITV showed the game Thursday night. Setanta will have learned its lesson from this episode and won't want to incur the wrath of the football watching nation again, so deals for the other qualifying matches played abroad will probably get done more easily. And the good news for Setanta is that with England finally finding their form, passionate England fans will want to watch the other matches, hopefully meaning far more subscriptions. After all, England couldn't possibly go back to being a team of underachievers, floundering around without a clue, could they?



Conor Dignam is digital content director of Emap Inform

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform