Channel 4's wariness of the new contract between indies and broadcasters reveals a surprising conservatism, says Conor Dignam Editor.
Mark Thompson, Channel 4 chief executive, surprised many this week with an attack on the principles behind the new terms of trade being introduced for broadcasters and independent producers.Thompson, speaking at the Broadcast Commissioning Conference in an interview with Kirsty Wark, said that the transfer of rights to indies from broadcasters might not be the welcome news for the indie sector that many have suggested - at least as far as C4 is concerned.Thompson claims that, unlike other broadcasters, he has no back pocket from which he can offset the loss of revenue. Broadcast revealed earlier this year that C4 faces lost revenue of around£8m as a result of the changes on a turnover of£762m. Thompson's only choice, he argues, is to dip into the programming pot for indies. Yet the£8m is, in real terms, a relatively small sum for C4 but a big injection of revenue into the indie community.Thompson's belief that the beneficiaries of the changes are large indies with the power to exploit rights, to the detriment of smaller or medium-sized companies has inevitably provoked an angry response from producers' alliance Pact.His comment that the battle fought by Pact for greater transparency and improved terms of trade is not over yet affords an interesting insight into C4's thinking and its role and its future relationship with the indie community.It suggests that C4 is clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of feeding greater power to the indie sector which it helped to build. Rather than looking at the changes as a positive way of building a stronger indie sector, Thompson's comments suggest C4 is insecure about the prospect of dealing with a stronger and more confident independent community.Instead of worrying about a fait accompli, shouldn't C4 be looking at how it can make the rulings in the codes of practice work for its business?