Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are the Wheels Coming off at Channel 4?; the Old Regime's Too-Rapid Expansion Is Being Blamed for New Cutbacks and Job Losses in the Station's Bid to Survive ;MEDIA

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are the Wheels Coming off at Channel 4?; the Old Regime's Too-Rapid Expansion Is Being Blamed for New Cutbacks and Job Losses in the Station's Bid to Survive ;MEDIA

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID ROWAN

IT promises to be this summer's reality-TV sensation: 1,100 Channel 4 staff locked in a modernist building on Horseferry Road, knowing that any day now up to 200 of them will be voted out. Faced with mounting losses and falling ratings, the channel's new boss admitted this week that only radical surgery - from huge job cuts to abandoned film ventures - offers the channel any longterm hope of survival. What has gone wrong at Channel 4?

Under its last chief executive, Michael Jackson, Channel 4 jumped recklessly on the digital bandwagon, investing heavily in websites and digital TV channels that soaked up millions at the expense of programme budgets.

Meanwhile, as the company's headcount rose from 650 to 1,100, the channel's advertising and sponsorship income fell away - dropping by pound sterling33 million last year alone. And while expensive star signings such as Richard and Judy have won lacklustre ratings, the channel's film arm has produced a string of critical and commercial bombs.

As the new chief executive, Mark Thompson, admitted this week: "If we don't change the schedules, the way we work, the structure and scale of the organisation very radically indeed, we are not going to succeed."

On Monday, Thompson called staff together to warn of "radical change" that would cost a significant number their jobs - between 100 and 200, according to insiders. "We need an organisation which is as lean as it possibly can be, but which is also based around clear tasks, teamwork and a spirit of co-operation," he said, a speech many present interpreted as an attack on his predecessor's regime. "Creating a leaner, less hierarchical Channel 4 will mean employing fewer people," he warned.

"It's going to be a bumpy time."

The bumps began last night, when the 59 staff at FilmFour learned that all but 10 would lose their jobs as its commissioning budget was slashed from pound sterling31 million to pound sterling10 million.

Famous for such British hits as Four Weddings and a Funeral, the filmmaking unit will now become a small in-house department (the FilmFour digital channel will continue as before).

The decision shocked the film world, which accuses Thompson of shortterm thinking. "It's a real blow," one film executive said. "FilmFour hasn't failed, but is simply going through the lean period in the seven-year cycle that affects all studios outside the Hollywood system. Channel 4 is only thinking about short-term profits."

All round, profits have been in short supply of late. Last year, the channel made an operating loss of pound sterling28 million, as opposed to a pound sterling34 million profit the previous year. The film company lost more than pound sterling5 million, while the FilmFour digital channel lost a further pound sterling11 million, and the E4 entertainment channel lost pound sterling37 million. …

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