C4 funding faces threat from rivals

Channel 4 has warned that competitive pressure in the wake of the ITV merger could threaten its ability to fund its programming schedule at current levels.

The warning came from chief executive Mark Thompson on Tuesday, as the channel released its 2003 annual report announcing its largest pre-tax profit in four years.

In his statement, Thompson said: “Competitive pressures unleashed by technological change and market consolidation are putting our economic model under strain, and may eventually threaten our ability to continue funding the kind of ambitious and diverse schedule that the channel assembled in 2003.”

Channel 4’s overall viewing share dropped slightly last year to 9.6 per cent, from the 10 per cent it held over the two previous years.

The channel paid ITN £22.5m for its news coverage, up from £19.9m previously.

The £3.6m increase was reflected in the midday Channel 4 News bulletin launched in the run-up to the war in Iraq, raising the number of news hours to 346 from 280 in 2002.

Channel 4’s total programming expenditure was £457m, up from £434m in 2002.

Pre-tax profits nearly trebled to £45m from £16.5m last year on turnover of £770m – almost unchanged from £767m in 2002.

“Our best financial performance in half a decade coincided with our highest ever annual programme budget,” Thompson said.

By Wale Azeez

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