C4 to cut 10% from program budget

TV topper to skip L.A. Screenings trip

U.K. hybrid web Channel 4 will cut at least 10% more from its program budget as it emerged that its director of television is not attending the L.A. Screenings for the first time.

Kevin Lygo, a regular at the buying spree, said the web’s economy drive meant that only the broadcaster’s acquisitions team would make the annual trek to Hollywood this month.

“We are buying far less U.S. shows these days,” he said. “I don’t expect us to buy more than one big new show this year.”

Figures in the Channel 4 annual report, published Wednesday, showed that last year the web spent about 20% less on acquisitions — £118.5 million ($178 million) — compared with $223 million in 2007.

However, the actual amount of acquired fare shown by the cash-strapped station had increased, from 3,140 to 3,336 hours.

Channel 4, owned by the British state but funded by advertising, posted a small net surplus of $2.7 million, up from $750,000 in 2007, and increased its cash surplus by $15 million to $310 million. This was despite a 4% decrease in revenues.

Web said the surplus was due to efficiency savings — it has cut a third of staff in the past year and cut program spend by 4%.

CEO Andy Duncan warned: “We are facing the worst economic conditions in our history as well as the digital migration of audiences and revenues online. Cost reductions will inevitably be even deeper in 2009.”

Duncan, who has spent much of past two years warning of a shortfall by 2012 due to increased competition, hopes the government will greenlight a partnership with BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm, next month.

But media insiders believe pols would prefer to see a merger with Five, the struggling web owned by RTL. Were that to happen, Duncan may find himself having to consider his own position.

Duncan denied he was under any pressure and said that Channel 4 would survive even if it failed to gain access to public money.

“In any scenario going forward, Channel 4 will survive,” he said. “But there will be a whole lot less of genres like comedy, drama and film.”