BT joins offers for C4 merger

Broadcasters mull endless possibilities

LONDON — The state of confusion still continues in the U.K. as broadcasters mull seemingly endless merger possibilities.

Phone and broadband giant British Telecom has emerged as the latest potential savior for beleaguered pubcaster Channel 4.

C4’s chairman, Luke Johnson, who last week repeated his hostility to a merger with pan-European broadcaster RTL’s Five, reportedly told local newspapers that a tie-up with BT “was worth exploring.”

BT refused to comment on “rumors and speculation.”

There have been widespread reports that there were preliminary talks between the two last year, but these were not regarded as a priority after regulators and the government issued the Digital Britain report last month that appeared to favor a partnership with BBC Worldwide as a way of solving C4’s funding gap.

BT’s 2-year-old hybrid IPTV service, BT Vision, has made little impact so collaboration with an experienced and editorially successful broadcaster such as Channel 4, owned by the state but funded by advertising, offers potential benefits.

But BT is already a partner, with the BBC and commercial rival ITV, in Project Canvas, a potentially hugely significant initiative because, for the first time, it promises to give auds access to TV and the Internet via one free-to-air, set-top box.

Government communications minister, Stephen Carter, has asked for interested parties to submit their ideas on Channel 4’s future by March 12.

It is known that U.S. media companies, including NBC Universal, are interested in the potential offered by a privately owned Channel 4.

Last week ITV, due to announce hefty job cuts Wednesday, suggested a three-way merger between itself, C4 and Five.

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