Channel 4 will start to produce its own programmes if it cannot agree with independent producers over new media rights, its chief executive has said.
C4 buys all of its programmes from independent producers
The channel wants to show programmes on the internet and devices such as mobile phones as well as on TV but independent producers dispute its right to do so.
If agreement is not reached C4 will make its own shows for the first time, Andy Duncan told the Royal TV Society.
"If independents push too hard there is no alternative," he said.
'Campaign for change'
Since its establishment in 1982 the channel has bought all of its programmes from independent producers, such as Endemol, which makes series such as Big Brother and Eight Out of 10 Cats.
But as TV broadcasters begin to screen programmes on broadband internet and portable devices, independent producers have disputed their right to do so.
Mr Duncan said public service broadcasters such as C4 should have the right to show a programme for free - whether on TV, broadband internet or on hand-held devices.
He told the Royal TV Society's Television magazine that C4 would campaign for a historic change in its method of operation if agreement could not be reached on the issue.
"This is not our preferred route, and we would need to agree this with (broadcast watchdog) Ofcom, but my sense is that if we can't be given comfort that is what we will have to do."
Ofcom is due to address new media rights in its review of the programme supply market at the end of the year.
In August the BBC announced plans to make all of its programmes available for free on the internet for up to one week after their TV broadcast.
C4 wants to make a selection of its programmes available on the internet for up to 30 days after they are shown on TV.
"We have always had a good relationship with our independent suppliers," a C4 spokesman said, "but our customers want us to embrace the use of broadband and mobile devices, as other channels have done."
The spokesman added: "Channel 4 will be in a very vulnerable position if it is not permitted to do so, and we have to consider any steps to strengthen our position."
'Wants for free'
Independent producers' union Pact said producers currently own all the rights associated with their programme, selling transmission rights to broadcasters at their discretion.
"Broadcasters are perfectly able to buy the rights to show a programme on broadband, mobile phones or whatever platform they want," a Pact spokeswoman said.
"But Channel 4 does not want to buy the rights - it wants them for free."
Pact has enabled the BBC to make shows available over the internet for seven days as it is a non-commercial venture by the corporation.
"But Channel 4 and ITV want the right to do that and make money from it," the spokeswoman said.
"If a show has been available over the internet and on mobile phones for 30 days, what does leave the producer with? Nothing.
"Fewer people who want to watch it again on TV or buy it on DVD. It would kill the programmes."
Pact said that, as C4 was established to commission programmes from independent producers, it was unlikely that the channel would be permitted to radically change its remit by producing everything in-house.
"If Channel 4 did make all its own shows, the losers would be the smaller regional indies, who would be shut out of the cycle completely."