C4 tie-up with BBC Worldwide expected 'within weeks'

Channel 4 is a few weeks away from signing a partnership agreement with BBC Worldwide, its chief executive told parliament today.

Andy Duncan said a “headline” deal between C4 and the BBC’s commercial division could be agreed before Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report is published next month.

He appeared in parliament today to give evidence to the cross-party Commons media select committee, which is scrutinising Channel 4’s recently published annual report.

Asked by MPs about a tie-up with BBC Worldwide, Duncan replied: “That’s certainly achievable within a few weeks.”

He added: “There might be more detailed issues which will take longer to sort out, but at headline level we think there’s a real urgency to getting that partnership confirmed.

“I would say that the ambition on all sides is to get to some sort of broad agreement for that [Digital Britain] report. Discussions have been going well.”

A partnership between C4 and BBC Worldwide is one of the options on the table to ease C4’s estimated £150m-a-year deficit in the coming years.

Duncan told MPs that ad revenues at C4 were down 18 per cent in the first half of the year and looked unlikely to come back to the levels previously enjoyed.

“It won’t bounce back, it’ll stop declining and it’ll plateau at a new lower level,” Duncan told the committee.

He said all parts of the channel were affected, but C4 would do all it could to preserve the quality of its news and current affairs.

And he added: “We’re not in danger of going bust as some people portray it.”

Other options to help shore up the public service broadcaster’s position have included a possible merger with Five, described by Duncan today as “very problematic”.

Another rumour, that Al Jazeera had shown an interest in partnership with C4, was dismissed.

“To my knowledge we’ve never talked to them,” Duncan told MPs. “They were alleged to have put themselves forward for a potential partnership but they’ve not contacted us.”

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