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BSkyB, ITV deal will harm U.K. TV, says C4 chief

C4 would be left 'feeling small and pretty vulnerable'

LONDON — A British TV topper has warned that BSkyB’s decision to buy almost a fifth of ITV would have a far-reaching impact on the ecology of U.K. broadcasting.

Andy Duncan, chief executive of Channel 4, the British commercially funded pubcaster, said that if the move leads to collaboration between the Murdoch-controlled BSkyB and ITV, the combined might of the two outfits would leave C4 “feeling small and pretty vulnerable.”

“Frankly I have mixed feelings about the deal, which is very clever and bold,” said Duncan speaking to media scribes at a lunch hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild.

“Only time will tell if it is in ITV’s long-term interest,” added Duncan. “A combined ITV and Sky represents a huge chunk of British TV and media.

“This would have a significant impact on the advertising market, which ITV already dominates, the plurality of news provision and areas like bidding for rights to sports and U.S. acquisitions, where there is the potential for unfair co-operation.

“We also need to think about how this affects Freeview (the U.K. digital terrestrial platform owned jointly by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky) and complex program supply issues.

“Issues concerning operational in-terference need to be carefully examined.”

He said that holding an 18% stake in ITV potentially puts BSkyB, which has so far chosen not to have a representative on ITV’s board, in a very powerful position.

Duncan recalled how Fidelity (the U.S. investment house that sold its stake to BSkyB on Nov. 17) effectively forced the resignation of Michael Green (the former chairman of Carlton TV and putative chairman of ITV).

“We will be watching the situation very closely,” he added. “Maybe BSkyB will be a silent partner who has finally seen merit in free-to-air TV.”

BSkyB CEO James Murdoch has said that he believed ITV’s decline had been “overstated” and the combo needed to be “more successful at making and realizing value from its programming”.

“To accomplish this, the ITV board needs the room to put the best new leadership in place and explore the full range of options to create value,” added Murdoch.

Duncan has been regarded as one of the leading candidates to become ITV’s new CEO, but today said he was committed to staying at C4 until the broadcaster had completed the transition to digital.

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