RTL boss approves Channel 4/Five merger

Gerhard Zeiler says broadcasters are 'complementary'

LONDON -- RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler has given his support to the idea of a merger between RTL-owned Five and publicly owned Channel 4, in a move that will ratchet up pressure on Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan and chairman Luke Johnson who strongly oppose any such deal.

Writing in the Financial Times Monday, Zeiler said the two broadcasters were very "complementary" and that a merger "would create a much stronger operator."

"With this merger, the future of both as public service channels would be guaranteed, delivering real benefits to the public while standing on their own two feet commercially," he said.

With the merger garnering the explicit support of BBC director general Mark Thompson, and the apparent support of communications minister Stephen Carter -- whose recommendations on the future of broadcasting are to be published Jan. 26 -- Channel 4 seems to be losing the argument that such a deal could never work.

The broadcaster estimates a 150 million pounds ($217 million) a year annual deficit by 2012 but last week Duncan described the idea of a merger between a publicly owned broadcaster and a commercially owned one as " a mess," preferring instead a merger between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster's commercial division.

Britain's public service broadcasters nervously await the outcome of a series of government reports that will shape the future funding of the sector, the first of which will be published Wednesday by media regulator Ofcom.