Raymond Snoddy: Rivals name price to save public service programming

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The Independent Online

Yesterday was a momentous day for public service broadcasting in the UK as Channel 4 announced record profits and the BBC came out with bold plans for more and better programmes to engage a new generation.

Naturally the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, and Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, also suggested that public service broadcasting as we now know it is doomed in the digital age - unless there is more money, larger public subsidy and a much bigger licence fee.

"There is a role for public intervention in Channel 4," suggested Mr Duncan while announcing that revenues last year in the main core channel had risen by 4.5 per cent to £733m and that after-tax profits had gone up to £48.5m.

Another £50m is to be invested in programmes this year and money will also be found for a Channel 4-branded service for PCs and televisions that will allow people to catch up with programmes they missed.

Meanwhile, last night, in a lecture in London, the BBC director general warned that the second wave of digital would be far more disruptive than the first and "the foundations of the traditional media will be swept away taking us beyond broadcasting".

As the BBC talks about more and better programming AND the need to deliver everything to every new platform that becomes available to keep in touch with the young - the cost to the citizen keeps ticking up.

It's almost as if the BBC and Channel 4 are now increasingly in cahoots - albeit it in a good cause - as the last defenders of public service broadcasting in the UK.

Mr Duncan, a former director of marketing at the BBC noted yesterday that Channel 4 would be "incredibly important" to the plurality of public service broadcasting when the move to digital in the UK is complete in 2012. "You can pretty much write off ITV and FIVE to an extent," he argued.

Meanwhile the BBC is apparently riding to the rescue of Channel 4 by being prepared to subsidise the £70m transmitter costs to move the channel to digital - out of licence fee income.

Both the BBC and Channel 4 are important institutions and Channel 4 in particular has just had a great year in both financial and creative terms.

If only both successful and powerful organisations wouldn't run about with their begging bowls quite so ostentatiously.