Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham will step down at the end of this year.
The broadcaster has confirmed that “he intends to step down from his role by the end of 2017 in order to develop personal plans to launch a media enterprise in 2018”.
He will remain in his role "until a new chief executive has been appointed and is in post", with chief creative officer Jay Hunt a leading candidate to take over.
In the statement Abraham paid tribute to his colleagues whom he described as “insanely talented and committed” and said that he leaves a broadcaster in good health with revenues topping £1bn and £700m invested on programming.
He added: “We run a world-class public service broadcaster that offers viewers and producers the opportunity for so much richness, delight and value, across so many genres – and long may that continue. Channel 4 matters and I am confident that our stakeholders recognise the unique and significant contribution it will make to the future of UK broadcasting and to the creative industries more broadly."
However the manner of the announcement was slightly unfortunate. News of his decision leaked out when the broadcaster's press Twitter account appeared to publish then quickly delete a tweet announcing that he was leaving.
But the news that the popular and highly-regarded chief executive was leaving after seven years was confirmed by the channel 30 minutes later.
Abraham’s decision to quit has also surprised some C4 insiders, especially with the channel continuing to fight off the Government’s interest in privatising – or part-privatising – the broadcaster.
“We expected David to stay with the threat of privatisation still looming – it’s not been put to bed properly and I would have thought he’d see that as a legacy issue,” said one executive.
Channel 4 is a publicly-owned advertising-funded broadcaster that ploughs all it profits back into its content. If it is privatised it would be answerable to shareholders and would be expected to generate revenue for shareholders in a move that critics say would detract from the distinctiveness of its output.
It is believed that the Government is currently reluctant to fully privatise the broadcaster but is looking at other options including the sale of a minority stake to a “strategic partner” such as BT.
The channel also faces the possibility of being forced to move from its London headquarters to Birmingham or Manchester to create a “northern powerhouse”.
The broadcaster also has to successfully launch The Great British Bake Off this autumn and maintain the former BBC1 hit’s popularity with fans.
The new presenting line-up is expected to be announced shortly, with Prue Leith likely to join Paul Hollywood as the key judges. The presenting roles, taking on the jobs performed by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, are also expected to be finalised in the coming days with filming due to start in the summer.
Charles Gurassa, Channel 4 Chair said: “David Abraham has been an outstanding Chief Executive of Channel 4 over the last seven years. Under his leadership the Channel has delivered record revenues, record programme investment, award winning creative renewal and industry leading digital innovation. He leaves the organisation in excellent creative and financial health and with a strong and highly experienced team in place. We wish him well in his future new enterprise. My colleagues on the Board and I will be undertaking a comprehensive recruitment process over the next months to ensure that Channel 4 continues to have outstanding leadership into the future.”
In its last annual report C4 reported record revenues of almost £1bn and the first audience growth at its main channel in a decade.
Its report showed that it invested £455m in original programming in 2015, with 53% of money spent outside the M25 over the period January to December 2015.
The Channel generated revenues of £979m over the period.