Channel 4 can’t afford Carol Vorderman and says it needs more cash for its public service remit. Nonsense, writes Neil Midgley: it is mass-market television that needs help
Carol Vorderman has, apparently, become too expensive for Channel 4’s game show Countdown. Gone are the carefree days when Channel 4 could afford to poach Paul O’Grady from ITV to chase teatime ratings. Now, says C4 chief executive Andy Duncan, it can only fulfil its public service remit if someone — most likely Gordon Brown — gives it a new £150 million a year subsidy. Similar bleatings come from senior BBC executives when- ever the future of the licence fee is discussed (despite the fact that the BBC can evidently afford £6 million a year for Jonathan Ross). Yet the BBC and Channel 4 — both publicly owned — rake in £4 billion a year between them, and the licence fee is guaranteed until 2013. It is ludicrous for their millionaire bosses to claim that public service broadcasting is in any danger in the UK. What is in mortal peril, as eyeballs and advertising revenue both migrate to the internet, is the future of mass-market commercial television. For, say, ITV, even a mathematician like Vorderman will soon find it hard to make the numbers add up.
Traditional British television faces an uncertain future. As digital switchover approaches and people spend more time online, more TV channels are competing for fewer viewers. In this rapidly changing business, only one thing is for sure: public service broadcasting (PSB) is in no imminent danger of extinction. The BBC has a guaranteed income of well over £3 billion a year until at least 2013 and Channel 4 has an annual programme budget of over £600 million. Yet the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards worry vocally that the digital world will see a loss of ‘plurality’ in PSB.