Uncertain future for Channel 4

The departure of Mark Thompson leaves Channel 4 without its highly rated leader at a critical point in the broadcaster's history.

Mr Thompson was the cheerleader of a grand strategy, recently made public, of trying to merge with Channel 5. For the deal to proceed, Channel 5's German owners would need to be convinced of its benefits and it would also require the Government to change the law and allow the state-owned Channel 4 to merge with Channel 5.

Channel 4 also faces other major challenges involving the advent of the age of digital television. It must negotiate the review of public service broadcasting now being carried out by the media regulator, Ofcom.

David Elstein, former chief executive of Channel 5, said: "This does leave them rather exposed. Once you lose the champion of something like the Channel 5 deal, you sometimes also lose the impetus."

Channel 4 is also faced with a much strengthened ITV following the regulators' decision last year to allow the main two companies that make up ITV to merge. And the BBC, with Michael Grade and Mark Thompson at the top, will be a formidable management team to compete against.

But Channel 4 has a strong brand, a distinctive place in the television market, its ratings are up this year and it recently announced a threefold increase in profits to £45m.

The departure of Mr Thompson sets up the intriguing prospect of the recently appointed Channel 4 chairman, Luke Johnson, a maverick businessman who made his fortune in the Pizza Express chain, overseeing the choice of a new chief executive. This may throw up an unexpectedly wide pool of candidates. Conventional wisdom would place Dawn Airey, the former Channel 5 boss who now works for BSkyB, as one of the front-runners. Out of those turned down for the BBC director-general post, John Willis is seen as the leading contender. But it is thought that Channel 4 may opt for a candidate from the wider media industry, such as David Mansfield, chief executive of Capital Radio.

It is the advent of mass digital television that puts Channel 4 at such a delicate point. More than half the country has digital television, and Channel 4's viewing share drops from more than 10 per cent in analogue homes to 6.5 per cent in digital households. Analysts say this is why the broadcaster is desperate for the Channel 5 deal - to give it a bigger "frontprint" in homes that have a choice of 200 or more channels. As well as its existing E4 and FilmFour digital channels, the broadcaster plans to launch at least one more in the next year. An executive said: "Channel 4 has a short window to build a stronger presence, otherwise it is in danger of disappearing in the digital world."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Sauce Recruitment: Programme Sales Executive - Independent Distributor

£25000 - £28000 per annum + circa 28K + 20% bonus opportunity: Sauce Recruitme...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money mot...

Guru Careers: Investment Writer / Stock Picker

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A freelance Investment Writer / Stock Picker ...

Guru Careers: PPC Account Executive / Paid Search Executive

£20 - 24K + Benefits: Guru Careers: An enthusiastic PPC Account / Paid Search ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us