Lobbying continues for Channel 4.5

Good to see channel Five chief executive Dawn Airey keeping up the pressure for a possible merger with Channel 4. This is the most obvious solution to C4’s various problems, which basically stem from not being able to make enough money to fund everything it wants to do in future including low-rating but worthy programmes like C4 News.

Airey, styling herself “bewildered of Long Acre”, has given an interview to mediaguardian.co.uk today and said Five and C4 could set up a government-appointed editorial board which would presumably oversee worthy as well as commercially viable programming.

All well and good. Whether or not C4 forges a link with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, its future as a hybrid commercially funded yet public service broadcaster is still in question. There’s plenty to lobby for before the government reaches its final conclusions on all of this in the summer. God knows, summer seems a long way off.

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Channel 4.5

Seems the government is considering either privatising Channel 4 or merging it with Channel Five. A reality check with the viewing public (ask your aunties and some mates) shows some already think C4 is privately owned, given it has ads on it. Some think it’s somehow owned by ITV. It isn’t, but ITV used to sell C4’s ads for it.

A merger with Five makes huge sense given that, basically, C4 is going to have to be even more commercial to survive in future, as is everything, even the BBC.

The government is considering two further options for C4 – that it teams up with the commercial arm of the BBC, the bit which publishes magazines and sells programmes outside the UK. Or that it somehow gets some more public money. That last one seems the least likely outcome, given even the BBC didn’t get all the money it asked the government for last time round.

I’m not against privatisation of C4 and doubt the viewing public would notice much difference unless the few serious programmes left on C4 disappear. Even then, viewers might not care. But what would a merged C4 and Five look like? Channel 4.5 with Big Brother, Dispatches and CSI. That probably sounds OK to most people. It would have over a tenth of all TV viewing and an even bigger slice of TV advertising.

If C4 chief executive Andy Duncan doesn’t secure the public funding he’s been asking for he can always resign in a huff. He’s not a programme-maker, hasn’t been a TV person for most of his career and some people don’t expect him to remain in the TV industry forever. So Five’s team led by Dawn Airey could run the next biggest commercial broadcaster after ITV. Beauty. Go for that, Mr Carter, broadcast minister, sir.

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It’s all getting rather exciting at Five

Will & Grace

That’s Five the broadcaster, not five o’clock when I shall – as tradition and budgetary limitations dictate – be serving jacket potatoes to the kids for tea.

No, over at Five the broadcaster all my favourite TV execs of all time are gathering. Dawn Airey, aka scary Airey or Zulu Dawn, rejoined the broadcaster at the end of October from another long period of gardening leave. She’s immediately set about changing things and promising to make lots of noise, as she did when she was first there from before Five’s launch in 1997 until 2002 when she moved to Sky.

No sooner had Dawn rejoined Five as chief executive than she announced she’d poached former Five colleague and friend Jeff Ford back from Channel 4 to head acquisitions and become her managing director. Today we hear that Dawn has hired Richard Woolfe, who she worked with at Sky where he’s been running Sky One (and Two and however many other Sky numbered channels they have there now).

This makes me happy for two reasons. One: Woolfe is a lovely man with a canny touch when it comes to making unwatchable digital channels suddenly quite watchable (he did it with Living where he pioneered paranormal programming such as Most Haunted which still does incredibly well for them and a line in so-called “pink” programming such as Queer Eye For the Straight Guy and Will & Grace (above); and he’s done it at Sky with Lost and Gladiators. Even if we don’t actually watch Gladiators, we’ve certainly read about its return in the papers).

Two: I suggested Woolfe would go to Five blinking yonks ago (in 2003) when he managed to convince me he was the frontrunner for the job Kevin Lygo had just vacated. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that, now that he’s finally got a major channel to run.

Huzzah. Let’s all watch more of Five. Oh – there’s only Paul Merton on that I like. Still, the only way is up.

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