Duncan says tie-up with Five 'makes no sense'

LONDON — Channel 4 topper Andy Duncan has dismissed the idea of a merger with rival U.K. broadcaster Five as “a mess.”

In his first public statement on a tie-up with Five, believed to enjoy the support of U.K. government ministers, Duncan said the move would “make no sense whatsoever.”

Speaking in London to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, Duncan said: “It makes no sense whatsoever to imagine that merging a not-for-profit publicly owned business with a for-profit, privately owned broadcaster is going to solve the fundamental structural problems we are all facing.

“Mixing oil and water doesn’t work. It just makes a mess.”

His speech comes as U.K. policy-makers prepare to take crucial decisions that are likely to decide Channel 4’s funding model for the foreseeable future.

Duncan claims Channel 4 faces a funding gap of up to £150 million ($220 million) a year, as competition intensifies and Internet-delivered entertainment becomes increasingly important.

Two possible ways of throwing Channel 4 a lifeline, apart from a merger with Five — which is owned by pan-European broadcaster RTL — involve re-directing coin from the BBC’s coffers or giving Channel 4 a stake in the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

But the BBC is opposed to both plans. Earlier this week, the pubcaster’s director general Mark Thompson gave public support to a merger with Five.

In his speech, Duncan also attacked Google implicitly. He said: “In the new online world the bulk of the ad revenues — over £2 billion ($2.9 million) of that £3 billion ($4.4 million) (the value of the U.K. Internet advertising market) goes straight back to the U.S. and very little of the entire sum finds its way into U.K. content.”

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