Andy Duncan has established strong credentials as a strategist, but must now prove himself as C4's new leader.
Andy Duncan has established strong credentials as a strategist, but must now prove himself as C4's new leader.

'Andy who?' was the reaction of most Channel 4 staff last week to the surprise news that their new chief executive is to be BBC marketing chief Andy Duncan. Even those who knew his name had little idea of who he was or what kind of chief executive he is likely to make.

This is a bold appointment by C4's recently installed chairman, Luke Johnson, himself still an unknown quantity in the broadcasting world. Duncan is highly regarded at the BBC for his sharp thinking, inclusive management style and successful marketing of Freeview. Nonetheless, this is a massive step up in profile and responsibility for an executive with only three years' broadcasting experience.

Johnson says Duncan is a chief executive for a channel that faces very different challenges than those confronted by the four chief executives who came before him, all with editorial backgrounds.

With the prospect of analogue switch-off within the next decade, there is clearly some truth in this. But we should be wary of accepting the notion that the role of C4 chief executive has somehow been magically transformed since Mark Thompson cleared his desk five weeks ago.

All of Duncan's predecessors have been asked to wrestle with the question of what makes C4 different. What justifies its public status and sets it apart from its commercial terrestrial rivals, which also have public service remits? What, at the end of the day, is the point of C4? (These are even more pressing questions given the debate about C4's future status and a possible merger with Five.) So Duncan must continue to ask them of his staff and channel.

He cannot simply leave programming issues to Kevin Lygo, while he does the 'big brain' thinking about digital strategies.

Given Duncan's background there has inevitably been much talk of 'brand' when discussing C4, but the truth remains that its greatest brand asset is its programming.

Duncan last week spoke about protecting the 'soul of C4' as the market goes digital. That soul should still lie in innovation, originality and risk-taking; and in commissioning the sort of programmes we are unlikely to find anywhere else on TV.

That remains part of the chief executive's mission, along with 'future-proofing' the channel for a digital age. Duncan is clearly an impressive broadcast strategist, now we are going to find out what kind of broadcast leader he makes.

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