Channel 4: Government proposes full sale of C4 if privatisation goes ahead

The government believes that a change of ownership will give Channel 4 greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities

The government has revealed that a full sale of Channel 4 is its preferred option, as it launches its consultation into the future of the public broadcaster.

In a document released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on Tuesday (6 July) afternoon, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden set out six key questions for stakeholders to help assess whether Channel 4 is sustainable under its current public ownership.

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Channel 4 Headquarters in London (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

At a glance: 5 key points

– The DCMS has revealed that a full sale of Channel 4 is the Government’s preferred option for the broadcaster if privatisation goes ahead.

– The government believes that a change of ownership will give Channel 4 greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities.

– The consultation into the future of the broadcaster has been launched and will finish on 14 September.

– An assessment of Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster model, which sees it commission all of its programmes from third-party producers, will also take place.

– The consultation arrives as the government plans to “modernise” Channel 4’s current ownership and remit.

What’s been said?

“Channel 4 has successfully delivered on its remit, aims and objectives since it began broadcasting almost 40 years ago. It has also effectively managed the uncertainty in the market over the last few years as it has advanced its digital strategy,” the DCMS document said.

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“However, the evolving media landscape poses material challenges to Channel 4’s future success and sustainability under its current ownership model and remit.”

“The government’s preferred option is to facilitate a change of ownership of Channel 4, in order to ensure it has the best chance of a successful and sustainable future,” the document said.

It added: “The government does not consider there to be merit or justification for a proportion of the corporation to be retained in public ownership.”

“It is worth considering whether current measures such as the publisher-broadcaster restriction are still necessary, particularly as they would have a constraining impact on Channel 4’s ability to grow its commercial income and therefore its investment.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The media world has changed immeasurably since Channel 4’s creation in the early 1980s, but whilst we have more choice today the need for a strong and successful Channel 4 continues.

“So in the face of rising global competition, now is the right time to strengthen UK public service broadcasters and consider releasing Channel 4 from the constraints of public ownership, enabling it to thrive for the next 40 years and beyond.”

The proposals to privatise Channel 4 have been opposed by a wide range of creative voices over the past month.

Comedy writer Armando Iannucci said that it would “muffle” the UK’s creative skills: “Our TV industry is a British success story. Channel 4 profits go back into the industry: selling it off will give them to American shareholders. When we should be promoting our creative skills across the world, the Govt launches a ‘consultation’ on how best to muffle them.”

Writing on Twitter, Mark Downie, creative director of Scottish producer IWC Media, said: “There’s no justification for privatising #Channel4. It would siphon off hundreds of millions of pounds currently invested in original British programming and hand it instead to shareholders as profit. The losers would be TV viewers and production workers all across the UK.”