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C4 to screen shows online to bolster ad revenue

LONDON - Channel 4 is planning to screen its programmes live over the internet from next week, as the broadcaster seeks to strengthen its online revenue generation.

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From next Tuesday, viewers will be able to watch 'Deal or No Deal,' 'Richard & Judy,' 'Shameless,' and 'Channel 4 News' by logging on to the Channel 4 homepage.

The broadcaster is also in discussions about a film download service, to be available from the autumn, which would make thousands of titles available through its FilmFour offering.

Channel 4 has already agreed a one-off deal with the Disney-owned ABC to make episodes of 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Lost' available on-demand.

It is understood that Andy Duncan, Channel 4's chief executive, plans to sell internet advertising space later in the year, once the popularity of screening programmes online becomes clearer.

"We didn't think it would be right to try charge advertisers from day one, so we are telling advertisers that this is a bonus for the short term, but it should be months, not years before we start selling ads online, once we have some steer on viewing figures," Duncan said.

Channel 4 plans to restrict its simulcasting to UK audiences for the time being, but Duncan says that the broadcaster was also looking at international opportunities.

However, while Channel 4's proposals would make it the first major broadcaster to screen programmes online, the decision has been met with criticism from the Federation of Small Businesses, that it would adversely affect productivity in the workplace.

There is also concern about potential fines for businesses that do not have a TV licence and are unaware staff are watching programmes online, and complexities in agreeing rights deals with US studios about broadcasting its content.

The feasibility of watching programmes over the internet has significantly stepped up in the wake of the BBC's decision to screen all of its World Cup coverage from its sports homepage, which has proved to be a hit with UK viewers.

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