Andy Duncan is to leave Channel 4 after five years as chief executive.
The move, announced on Wednesday, was expected. Mr Duncan’s relationship with the board of the state-owned, advertising-funded broadcaster had been increasingly difficult in recent months.
C4’s failure to agree a deal this summer to enter a joint venture with the BBC’s commercial arm, Worldwide, is said by people familiar with the company’s internal discussions to have been a decisive moment.
In a statement, C4 said its chief executive would step down by the end of the year. Early favourites to replace him include Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, and Mr Duncan’s own controller of TV, Kevin Lygo.
The past two years have been a period of considerable turmoil for Mr Duncan and C4. Starting in early 2007, the spectre of moving into financial loss, which is not permitted under its regulation, haunted C4. The channel predicted a loss of £150m by 2012 and pleaded for a public subsidy, although it never said where it thought the money should come from.
In the early stages of negotiation, it appeared that the government would grant C4’s wish, providing the cash from the BBC either by forcing it to share the licence fee or by gifting all or part of BBC Worldwide to the smaller broadcaster. Negotiations, which directly involved Mr Duncan, took place throughout late 2007 and 2008.
Then, as the government’s Digital Britain white paper was being prepared this year, the government changed tack, trying to persuade Mr Duncan and Luke Johnson, his chairman, to accept a merger with Five, which is owned by RTL, the pan-European broadcaster. However, their full-square rejection of this idea prompted the final Digital Britain verdict that C4 would try to reinvent itself with a different remit as a digital and online powerhouse.
Details of how this is to be achieved remain obscure, though, and the uncertainty of C4’s future affected relations between Mr Duncan and the board.
Mr Duncan said on Wednesday: “Having coped with dramatic structural change and an unprecedented downturn substantially better than most, I believe Channel 4 is in a great position to face the future with real confidence.
“The publication of the Digital Britain report was also a natural moment for me to take stock, and since then I have been in discussion with Luke and other board members about the future.”
Mr Duncan said they had “mutually agreed that this feels like the appropriate moment for me to hand on the baton to someone else”.
Mr Johnson thanked Mr Duncan for his “effective leadership” and said Anne Bulford, chief financial officer, would lead the group “on an interim basis in the event that Andy leaves before his successor is in place”.