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David Abraham appointed Channel 4 boss

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 22 January 2010

After months of searching for a candidate, Channel 4 appoints UKTV's David Abraham as its new chief executive. Benjamin Cohen reports.

David Abraham

Mr Abraham replaces Andy Duncan who left Channel 4 last November. His background as the head of a successful pay TV network has raised some eyebrows.

He becomes the sixth chief executive of the public service broadcaster in its 27-year history.

Lord Burns, Channel 4’s chairman, said: “David is a rare commodity as a broadcaster in that he has an exceptional track record as an innovative leader, both creatively and commercially.

“At all stages of his career he’s led creative teams and commissioned creative output of the highest quality in a commercial environment. It is that experience, we believe, that so well qualifies him for the challenge of running a commercially funded, public service broadcaster like Channel 4. 

“The board spoke to a number of other candidates and considered many more as part of a very thorough process and we’re convinced that, in David, we have identified a creative manager of the highest quality.

“He has a track record of success as a chief executive and the right mix of skills to get all parts of Channel 4 working together to unlock our full creative and commercial potential and complete our transition into digital.”

It was rumoured that talkbackThames chief execuitve and former BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey and former BBC2 controller Jane Root were more likely candidates.

David Abraham said: “This is an extremely exciting, if challenging, time to be working in the media. Innovation has been part of Channel 4’s history and it will be at the heart of its future.

“I look forward to leading the whole organisation through its next period of growth and innovation, both creatively and commercially. What I bring to deliver that future is idealism, versatility and a record of leading creative organisations through change.”

Mr Abraham is best known for his innovate rebranding of the UKTV network to Dave, Watch, Blighty, Eden and Alibi. In particular Dave, from the rather bland UKG2, has been hugely successful in increasing audience and advertising spend.

As soon as I tweeted that he was appointed as Channel 4 chief executive, I was sent a reply asking if he’d rebrand E4 as “Sharon”!

In reality a rebrand is unlikely, but there had been talk in the past of charging for access to Channel 4’s digital channels again. Until 2005, E4 and Film4 were premium channels available on subscription on cable and satellite.

Mr Abraham has experience as both the CEO of the paid for UKTV network and the vice-president of the Discovery Home network in the USA, also a subscription channel.

He will join a broadcaster that, like the rest of the commercial TV industry, has been hit by falling advertising sales as a result of the recession and structural changes, with a shift of budgets towards the internet.

Channel 4’s previous chief executive, Andy Duncan, was criticised for falling revenue and rising pay and an inability to “win” the argument during the Digital Britain review process.

He argued that Channel 4 would be forced to cut public service content as it had a funding shortfall.

Talk of a subsidy from the digital switchover surplus fund collected with the TV licence fee went nowhere. Later Mr Duncan opted for a partnership with BBC Worldwide in order to secure future funding for the channel. But after months of negotiations, no agreement emerged.

In May of last year Mr Duncan announced that Channel 4 would be forced to cut its content budget by at least 10 per cent.

Some blogs have suggested Mr Abraham is a controversial appointment, as he is the first to hold the post having never worked for a public service broadcaster before.

But Channel 4 are keen to point out his track record at commissioning creative programmes at the Discovery network, often in partnership with the BBC.

It is understood that he will not be joining the broadcaster until May at the earliest. In the interim Channel 4 will continue to be led by acting chief executive Anne Bulford.

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