Jeff Randall Speaks to Channel 4 Chairman, Luke Johnson

Tonight Jeff Randall Live has an exclusive broadcast interview with Channel 4 chairman, Luke Johnson.

In an exclusive TV interview Jeff Randall asks him about the decision by Channel 4’s chief executive, Andy Duncan, to step-down at the end of the year.

Mr Johnson said: “…there was a general feeling from Andy [Duncan] and the board that it seemed a good idea to have a change….and after five years when I think Andy has done a good job there was a view that it was time for renewal and so that’s what’s happening.”

On the appointment of a new chief executive he tells Jeff: “…they need to have significant experience of television because that’s still the vast majority of what we do but they also need to have a serious understanding of the digital world because obviously everything is changing and whoever takes over at Channel 4 has got to continue that evolution of the business while the whole internet revolution rolls over.”

Jeff Randall presents a live half-hour business news show four days a week on Sky News, from Monday to Thursday at 7.30pm.

Highlights from the interviews will run at www.skynews.com/jeffrandall shortly after they air and Sky News Active, accessed via the red button on the remote control, will repeat Jeff Randall Live.

Full Transcript:

Jeff Randall: Clearly there’s been a boardroom bust up at Channel 4, what was the final straw that made you sack Andy Duncan?

Luke Johnson: Now Jeff you’ve obviously been reading the newspapers and believing the inaccurate speculation from there. The truth of the matter is that I think there was a general feeling both from Andy and the board that it seemed a good idea to have a change. Channel 4 ever since it was founded has seen a regular switching of executives both creatively and in senior positions, and after five years when I think Andy has done a good job there was a view that it was time for renewal and so that’s what’s happening.

Jeff Randall
: I think what many observers will think is well, if he’s resigning, why is he getting a very generous severance package?

Luke Johnson: Well that hasn’t been announced.

Jeff Randall: So he’s not getting a severance package?

Luke Johnson: All that will be disclosed as usual in the annual report next year. He obviously has a contract which will be honoured but the truth of the matter is that this is a mutual decision because I think he felt he’s achieved so much and that now is as good a time as any for new people to come on board and fresh thinking.

Jeff Randall: You say that he has achieved much, today you’re quoted as saying that Channel 4 has enjoyed record creative and commercial success. You must be the only commercial success that’s running out of money.

Luke Johnson: Well I think that’s an exaggeration, if you look at our cash position actually it’s no worse that it was a year ago. I would argue we are out-performing our direct free to air broadcast rivals.

Jeff Randall: So what’s all this funding gap then?

Luke Johnson: The truth is that Channel 4’s measure of success is not financial. We are not a Plc, we are a non profit public corporation whose purpose in life is to deliver public goods, i.e.: public service broadcasting, and obviously we can cut out programming budgets which we’ve had to do because as you know very well there is a serious recession and there is enormous upheaval among traditional media companies and we are under those pressures. I think we have cut our cloth significantly though a 25% headcount reduction through other savings and we are having to make sacrifices in terms of our programming budget but despite that we’ve continued to win awards and I think our programming line up is as good as it has ever been and we maintain our audience share relatively compared to the others, so I don’t think we’ve done badly.

Jeff Randall: Luke you’ve always been on the entrepreneurial wing of British business, you’ve always believed in free enterprise, given what’s gone on in the last five years with British broadcasting, isn’t it time to simply privatise Channel 4 and do away with all this agony.

Luke Johnson: I think that’s a very simple and rather naïve idea because I think if you…

Jeff Randall: Simple yes, why naïve?

Luke Johnson: I think if you sold off Channel 4 you would destroy the magic, I think you would kill what’s special about it, that means that it’s been able to deliver incredible successes like Slumdog Millionaire, remarkable dramas like Red Riding, all sorts of special programming from Channel 4 News to Dispatches documentaries that make a difference and we are really the only true competitor in terms of public service output that the BBC has and without us, not only would the viewer have less choice of that sort of quality programming but actually I think the BBC would be worse for it. We are innovative and we punch above our weight in terms of new voices and new talent on air and I think that’s vital and if you were to privatise Channel 4 then I think inevitably the profit consideration would be the only motive and I think you would dumb the thing down significantly and I think British culture would suffer as a consequence.

Jeff Randall
: You’re talking about dumbing down and magic, I mean the truth was, wasn’t it, that the magic was Big Brother and that has faded.

Luke Johnson: Big Brother we’ve announced next year will be the last series. I think it was a pioneering show when it was first launched and we’re now going to do something else with that money and that space in the schedule and that’s the way Channel 4 has always been. We’re going to re-invent the whole output and so it should be and we will continue to do that and that’s why Channel 4 is special.

Jeff Randall: What kind of talents are you looking for in the new chief executive, what’s required?

Luke Johnson: I think they need to have significant experience of television because that’s still the vast majority of what we do but they also need to have a serious understanding of the digital world because obviously everything is changing and whoever takes over at Channel 4 has got to continue that evolution of the business while the whole internet revolution rolls over.

Jeff Randall: Luke Johnson, many thanks.

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