Channel 4 could take slice of license fee

The U.K.’s biggest commercial terrestrial broadcaster, ITV, is set to be given the greenlight to dramatically reduce its public service commitments — while Channel 4 may be handed a slice of the BBC license fee.

This is according to a leaked document from media regulator Ofcom, which is conducting a survey of public service broadcasting in Blighty.

The proposals would allow ITV, recently the subject of bid speculation, to scale back on regional news, cut public affairs shows and reduce programs produced outside London.

This, Ofcom calculates, would save ITV almost $80 million a year, according to the report leaked to British newspaper the Guardian.

Such a move, if it happens, is certain to be welcomed by ITV, but the regulator’s proposals contain bad news for the BBC, funded by a license fee paid by all U.K. TV-watching households and which generates more than $6 billion a year.

Ofcom has indicated that part of the license fee could be used to help secure Channel 4’s future funding, which is under pressure from increased competition.

Channel 4 is effectively owned by the state but funded by advertising and is campaigning for a $200 million public subsidy.

It claims this is the amount needed to guarantee its future as a public service broadcaster.

Ofcom, however, estimates that Channel 4 will need considerably less than it is asking for — around $80 million a year in the medium term.

“This is bad news for the BBC,” said former ITV topper Steve Hewlett. “Ofcom is moving into a position where head-to-head conflict with the BBC looks unavoidable — and both Ofcom and the BBC know that.”

In a statement, Ofcom said: “No decisions have been made on the future funding of public service broadcasting in the U.K., nor the future obligations on ITV as a public service broadcaster.”

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