Former chairman sees merger as best option
Blighty’s smallest terrestrial web, Five, is “a goner,” according to its former chairman, Greg Dyke.He said the past year had shown that Five, owned by RTL, “has no real chance of surviving as an independent channel, so it’s just a matter of who buys it or who it merges with and when.” Dyke, delivering the Royal Television Society’s Christmas lecture in London on Wednesday, said the ideal solution to Five’s plight would be a merger with ITV, the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial broadcaster. “There are a few programs on Five — ‘Neighbours,’ ‘Home and Away’ and ‘CSI’ — which would all get better ratings on a deregulated ITV and sell at a higher cost than they do on Five,” he said, referring to the channel’s advertising rates. Five lost $66.4 million in the first half of this year and is struggling to come to terms with a much reduced advertising take. In an often-barbed speech, which he described as his “television swan song,” Dyke attacked the management of ITV. He derided recent events at the web, which had seen executive chairman Michael Grade resign following stockholder dissatisfaction at “the year of corporate chaos.” “What a shambles the board of ITV became. The story of ITV in this decade is a sad one,” Dyke said. “In particular, it’s a story of how a board and senior management managed to seriously damage a great populist channel and destroy shareholder value on a massive scale at the same time.” Turning to the BBC, where Dyke was forced to resign five years ago over a spat concerning journalistic standards, he called for the abolition of the pubcaster’s inhouse regulator, the BBC Trust. He said the Trust was “unduly slow and bureaucratic, expensive to run and creates inbuilt conflict within the organization.” Dyke, who is chairman of the British Film Institute, praised News Corp.’s plans to erect paywalls for its news websites but warned against the domination of its paybox, BSkyB. He added that News Corp. topper James Murdoch’s recent claim, made in his Edinburgh TV Festival MacTaggart lecture, that the BBC provided “state-sponsored media” was “laughable.” “In my opinion, James was laying the foundation for a ferocious attack next year on the BBC if News Intl.’s (News Corp.’s U.K. arm) attempt to charge for its newspapers on the Internet — a complete reversal of its previous policy — doesn’t work,” predicted Dyke. “I can write the speeches now. ‘It would have worked if the BBC wasn’t giving away its content for free.’ ”
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