Ch. 4 rethinks budget, turns focus to new

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Channel 4 is slashing its acquisitions budget by £10 million ($20 million) a year. The U.K. broadcaster said the move is part of an ambitious push to fill its schedules with bold original programming, and it will mount a full-scale clear-out of some of its most successful series in order to create primetime space for the new shows.

Channel 4 said Friday that it is cutting about £10 million a year from its annual £120 million ($241 million) film and television acquisitions budget and said that most of the cull will come from the £40 million ($80.3 million) a year it averages on long-running acquisitions.

Announcing the radical change of direction just weeks before the broadcaster's 25th anniversary in November, director of programming Kevin Lygo was candid about the risk to ratings and revenue inherent in the new creative thrust but said that the channel has a responsibility to create and promote exciting new programming.

Shows that will be axed include the controversial ratings hit "Celebrity Big Brother," the lifestyle show "You Are What You Eat" and the comedy "It's Me or the Dog," among others.

"Of course there's always a risk," Lygo said. "But the thing about Channel 4 is that everybody is losing ratings, and we have lost fewer than other people — it's an inevitable consequence of multichannel television.

"Will our share go down? Yes it will, but it probably would have gone down anyway. It's better to have your ratings go down when you are the creator of vibrant, interesting, talked-about programs than to have your share go down when you have exactly the same programs as you had last year," he added.

Series acquisitions prices in the U.K. have seen major inflation in the past two to three years as such big-spending players as Sky One and ITV fiercely compete for new titles.

Channel 4 airs such shows as "Ugly Betty," "My Name Is Earl" and "Desperate Housewives."

"Acquisitions have become more expensive and less distinctive, and because movies are now bought as part of big packages, the only way you can make savings relatively quickly is on series acquisitions," Lygo said.

He added that spending will be cut by about £10 million in 2007 and that cuts could be even deeper next year.

Channel 4 will look to new groundbreaking dramas and comedies to replace the shows it is culling, Lygo said. Among the forthcoming fall highlights are "Britz," a drama from Peter Kosminsky about a young British-born Muslim who joins the security services to infiltrate a terrorist cell and the conflicts he runs into with family and friends.

"Boy A," another drama, tells the story of the rehabilitation of a young man who has spent his teenage years in young offender's jail after the murder of another child. The new comedies include "Bitter and Twisted," with Stephen Mangan, and "The Eejits," with Patrick McDonnell and Paul McLinchy.
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