City & Corporate: C4 asks Citigate for merger help

Digital Britain - Lord Carter's report on the future of C4 prompts the channel to seek comms support.

Channel 4 has brought in Citigate Dewe Rogerson to provide 'extra muscle' for its long-running fight against a mooted merger with Five.

The agency has been appointed on a project brief to help hammer home the channel's messages ahead of the publication of Lord Carter's Digital Britain report and Ofcom's report on public sector broadcasting - both due to be released in a matter of days.

Matt Baker, head of press and publicity at C4, said: 'We are currently engaged in the very final stages of an intensive and long-running lobby around C4's future status and funding. We have brought in Citigate, alongside our long-term advisers Maitland, as we felt we needed some extra muscle and bandwidth to help us fight our corner in this crowded space.'

Maitland will continue to work with the broadcaster on its general positioning and corporate profile.

Citigate's involvement will be headed by executive director and City stalwart Tony Carlisle, who said: 'We are acting for C4 in the context of the forthcoming Ofcom and Digital Britain reports, which will shape the framework of the media industry in this country for the next generation.'

The reports will be crucial for C4's future as depressed ad revenues have left it facing a funding gap of £150m per year that needs to be plugged.

C4 wants to link up with and take a slice of the profits from BBC Worldwide - a move fiercely opposed by BBC director general Mark Thompson. He is one of a number of influential voices, including Five's owner RTL, to advocate a C4 and Five merger.

One senior broadcast comms source said C4 was smart to bring in heavyweight help, but was critical of some aspects of the channel's previous comms efforts.

The source said: 'C4 has lost its momentum in terms of narrative and others have come in to fill that void. Its comms have to be centred on how viewers will benefit as opposed to how the channel's management will.'

The channel has made efforts to get its message out more vociferously, with C4 chief executive Andy Duncan's arguments against the C4/Five tie-up receiving wide press coverage this week.

With advertising revenues falling across the board (already down £500m from their decade peak of £3.5bn), corporate broadcasters such as ITV and BSkyB will be affected by Carter's report in terms of its recommendations on digital revenues.

HOW I SEE IT - NICK RABIN, Head of broadcast PR, Weber Shandwick

The broadcasting industry is being squeezed and finding conditions hard. But C4 has a perception problem as it is perceived as a commercial organisation. There is a lack of understanding about C4's position and I think that is a big issue when it is making a case for receiving public money.

C4 could have done with better comms in recent years to explain what it stands for and the work it does off screen in terms of the development of the creative industries and support of the British film industry. It needs to show that it is not only about Big Brother and American imports.

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