Airey weighs in on British TV future

Five expected to pinkslip 100 employees

LONDON — The debate over the future of British broadcasting sparked by the government’s Digital Britain report continued today with Dawn Airey, CEO of tyro terrestrial web Five, seemingly ruling out an independent future for her station.

“What is going to happen is quite apparent and that is consolidation,” she said. “Sure as night and day Five will be part of that. By merger or acquisition, by hook or crook, Five will get bigger.”

Airey, interviewed by BBC Radio, is expected to pinkslip up to 100 of her 350 staff next week as Five, owned by pan-European media giant, RTL, battles for its future in a “catastrophic” advertising market.

Five is lobbying British policy makers for a merger with state-owned Channel 4, which is advertising funded and also faces financial difficulties.

Today C4 chairman Luke Johnson reiterated his opposition to a merger with Five.

Speaking at a London media confab he said a tie-up with Five would amount to “privatization by stealth.”

He said that while there is no appetite among policy makers to privatise C4, which claims it faces a “funding gap” of around £150 million ($215 milllion) by 2012, it would be better to “do a proper auction and maximise proceeds” than to “fudge it with a messy deal that neither secures public service broadcast output nor the highest price for the taxpayer.”

Johnson added that the idea of C4 merging with ITV, an idea proposed by ITV in answer to the Digital Britain report, contained even more potential problems because of the dire state of the web’s finances and competition issues involved in creating such a dominant player.  

Meanwhile Airey encouraged C4’s leaders to stop being so hostile to a merger with Five.

“I’d like to think they would have been as open and curious as Channel 4 is as a channel,” she said.

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