C4 boss slams BBC for buying U.S. shows

Andy Duncan criticizes pubcaster for misuse of license fee

LONDON -- Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan has slammed the BBC for competing to buy U.S. shows such as "Harper's Island," arguing that the pubcaster should not spend license fee income on U.S. shows.

Speaking before the House of Commons culture select committee, Duncan said that although the broadcaster was pulling out of major primetime acquisitions, it still had room for shows it could air on its digital channels but was losing out to the BBC for program rights.

"I don't understand why any of the license fee is spent on acquisitions," Duncan told an all-party committee of members of parliament.

"The BBC competes against us and ITV for feature films and acquisitions, all of which would appear on British television some other way. If they didn't spend this money, they could spend it on original programming."

"It was a particular disappointment to be outbid by BBC3 on 'Harper's Island,' " Duncan added.

The BBC currently has rights to such acclaimed shows as "Heroes," "The Wire," "Mad Men" and "Damages."

While Channel 4 still airs major franchises such as "Desperate Housewives," recently it said it was cutting back its acquisitions budget, and will not send its director of television Kevin Lygo to the L.A. Screenings.

The move reflects a retreat from costly acquisitions by other commercial free-to-air broadcasters including ITV and Five, as the networks are hit hard by the advertising downturn.

ITV recently parted ways with its head of acquisitions Jay Kandola as part of a major jobs cull, and has wrapped the standalone acquisitions job into that of head of digital channels under Zai Bennett. RTL-owned Five recently lost the rights to "House" one of its major U.S. franchises and said it will replace the show with home-grown entertainment fare.

In other evidence to the committee, Duncan said Channel 4 was close to a partnership deal with the BBC's commercial arm BBC Worldwide, which he said would be announced before the end of next month.