Channel 4's CEO Andy Duncan resigns

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Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, has resigned. The decision leaves the broadcaster in danger of a crisis of leadership as Ofcom, the media watchdog, seeks to find a replacement for the Channel 4 chairman, Luke Johnson, who is also obliged to stand down in January.

Duncan’s departure will come before the end of the year. He confirmed his intention to leave to the Channel 4 board at a meeting earlier today. He had been in post for five years during which time he has attempted to secure the boadcaster’s future after the switch off of the analogue signal in 2012.

His attempts to secure government funding to cover an estimated shortfall of £150m a year in advertising revenue have so far failed as the BBC has resisted attempts to share the licence fee and talks on a proposed joint venture with the corporation’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide have stalled.

Channel 4, under Duncan’s leadership, has been at the centre of controversies over documentaries on climate change, the death of Princess Diana and Islamic fundamentalism. But most notably there has been uproar over the content of the reality show Big Brother, which has been an important revenue earner for the channel, but has damaged its reputation, most famously when the bullying of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty prompted riots in India and an apology from Gordon Brown, who was visiting the country at the time.

Today Duncan released a statement describing his time in charge. “By any measure, it’s been a great five years, during which time we’ve punched well above our weight, out-performing our immediate rivals both creatively and commercially. The British public are watching and using more of our TV programmes, film and online content and services than ever before. Having coped with dramatic structural change and an unprecedented downturn substantially better than most, I believe Channel 4 is in a great position to face the future with real confidence.

“Our future as the main source of public service competition to the BBC has been secured, with the Digital Britain report strongly endorsing our vision for Channel 4 as a digital public service network and the updated remit we proposed due to be enshrined in legislation in the autumn.

“The publication of the Digital Britain report was also a natural moment for me to take stock and since then I have been in discussion with Luke and other board members about the future. Channel 4 is facing a further period of change, with a fresh regulatory cycle looming and with the cancellation of Big Brother signalling the most significant creative renewal in our history. We have mutually agreed that this feels like the appropriate moment for me to hand on the baton to someone else and to move on to a fresh challenge after more than five years at the helm.

“My intention in announcing my decision in advance is to ensure a period of stable leadership, which will allow the board to proceed with recruiting my successor in parallel with Ofcom’s appointment of a new chairman. I hope that clarifying my intentions will allow everyone at Channel 4 to get on with the job at hand without the distracting speculation of recent weeks.

“In my remaining months I intend to see through important further steps towards securing the best possible future for this organisation, including the update of our remit and the completion of a number of exciting commercial partnerships currently under discussion.”

Duncan’s relationship with Johnson has become increasingly strained. The chairman, who praised Duncan as a star of his generation when he was hired in 2004, measured in his praise of the chief executive’s achievements. “The board is grateful for Andy’s effective leadership. Channel 4 has enjoyed record creative and commercial success in the last five years while skilfully navigating the seismic upheavals in digital media. When the time comes, he will depart with our best wishes for his future success.

“In the meantime, we will immediately get on with the process of appointing his successor. We will move swiftly to appoint headhunters with a view to appointing a replacement in due course. I have asked our finance director, Anne Bulford, to lead the Group on an interim basis in the event that Andy leaves before his successor is in place.”