Five chief urges Channel 4 to be 'open-minded' on merger

Five will play a role in the consolidation of the television industry “as sure as night follows day”, its chief executive Dawn Airey said today.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Media Show this afternoon, Airey urged Channel 4 management to be more ‘open-minded’about a potential tie-up between the two broadcasters – which has been described by C4 chief executive Andy Duncan as like “mixing oil and water”.

Merging Channel 4 with another entity – possibly Five or the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide – is one of the recommendations in communications minister Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report.

“I think what’s going to happen, and it’s quite apparent, is there’s going to be consolidation. And as sure as night follows day, Five absolutely will be part of that,” Airey told Radio 4.

“Whether it’s through merger or whether it’s through acquisition, eventually by hook or by crook, we will become bigger.”

She said of the proposed C4-Five merger: “We’re both public service broadcasters that commission content – we don’t produce our own content. We’re both facing the same structural challenges and cyclical challenges.

“When you tend to put two businesses together that are pretty much identical there are a huge number of synergies and savings.”

Airey said she hoped Andy Duncan and Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson would look at the merger “in an open-minded way” now that it has been formally recognised by the Government as one of the solutions to its multimillion-pound annual funding deficit.

“I’d like to think that they would be as open and as curious as Channel 4 is as a channel. It’s not as if it’s a new idea,” she added.

“All we do is offer a proposition that solves their self-declared funding problem.”

Five is expected to announce wide-ranging job cuts next week. According to Broadcast, more than 100 redundancies are likely – about a third of its total workforce.

Airey confirmed this afternoon that staff would be told of the cuts next week.

“We are seeing a major shift in the economics of television. The money that’s leaving television at the moment I don’t think that is probably coming back,” she told the Media Show.

“The emphasis is going to be on the need to be able to diversify your revenues outside of traditional advertising.”

She added: “Do I think that the industry is materially bust? Absolutely not.

“There will be a restructure and we will be losing some of our staff. We’re going to be talking to our staff on 5 March. They’ll be the first to hear it.”

Airey, who was part of the Five launch team in 1997, also hinted that it would be taking a more risk-taking approach to programming as Five enters its ‘teenage years”.

“We’ve gone from being young and provocative and loud to being old, middle-aged and frankly a bit boring,” she said.

According to the Guardian, ITV has drawn up a plan for a three-way merger with C4 and Five – creating a commercially funded broadcasting giant to rival the BBC.

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