In his speech to the Royal Television Society convention on Wednesday, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will explain the Conservative government’s reasoning for wanting to privatize broadcaster Channel 4.
Dowden will argue that new private investment would allow the channel to better follow SVODs such as Netflix and Amazon and point to Channel 4’s recent deal with Amazon for joint rights to the US Open tennis final as the type of agreement that he would like to see more moving forward.
He will claim that Channel 4’s status as a PSB will continue in the event of a sale, with the obligations and requirements that go with it.
As part of its review of the broader SSP landscape, the UK government recently launched a public consultation on the future ownership of Channel 4, the broadcaster of successful shows, including The Great British Bake Off, Glasses box and It’s a sin. The consultation ended on Tuesday evening (September 14), but some see the sale as inevitable with several Tory governments over the years keen on privatization.
Royal Television Society Convention: Full Deadline Coverage
Dowden will tell the convention today: “Channel 4 is one of this country’s greatest assets… A clear way to ensure our UK broadcasters thrive is to put them in the right financial position to compete. and succeed for decades to come – whatever the future of broadcasting holds.
“Channel 4 is in a stable position right now. But I think too many people are obsessed with where Channel 4 is now. I’m much more concerned about its long-term future. And I believe that if Channel 4 wants to grow, it will soon need money. Without it, Channel 4 won’t have the money to invest in technology and programming, and it won’t be able to compete with the streaming giants.
He will continue: “The next obvious question: where does this money come from? It can either come on the back of the taxpayer or come from private investment. And it’s my strong position – as a point of principle – that I don’t believe a commercial TV loan should be guaranteed by a grandmother in Stockport or Southend.
“Instead, we can help him unlock this much-needed investment. And we can do that while protecting the parts of Channel 4 that none of us want to lose.
Dowden will say that Channel 4’s public service remit will remain: “So if we choose to proceed with a sale, I will ensure that it remains subject to appropriate public service obligations. And I imagine these include: a continued commitment to independent news and current affairs, commissioning programs from the independent production sector, and that Channel 4 should continue to be representative of the whole nation.
“Let’s be clear: I do not subscribe to the false binary choice between public service content and privatization. We can have both. Channel 4 can continue to do what it does best: fund original, risque content – the kind you wouldn’t get anywhere else – and showcase the best of this country on free-to-air TV.
“He did a fantastic job broadcasting the Paralympic Games. I want him to continue doing this fantastic job in three years and beyond. And I was so happy that Channel 4 was able to bring the whole country together on Saturday night to cheer on Emma Raducanu in the US Open final. We needed those national moments last year, and we need more of them on free TV.
“A Channel 4 with a protected mandate and deeper pockets could bring us much, much more in the future. If people don’t agree, here’s my challenge: Please tell me how they intend to protect Channel 4 and the wider creative industries in a fairer and more sustainable way.Because standing still is not an option.In fact, it would be an act of self-harm.
Channel 4 is state-owned but commercially funded, mainly from television advertising revenue, and is not required to generate profits.
As the Guardian reports, a recent analyst report from Ampère claims that dozens of production companies would suffer from a sale. “If the government seeks to loosen the remit of Channel 4 to squeeze more money out of privatisation, it would have a substantial negative impact on the UK production sector,” Ampere analyst Richard Broughton told the newspaper. “Channel 4 works with more small production companies than any other broadcaster, we estimate there have been 200 over the past two years, and a privatized Channel 4 would likely leave many people struggling financially.”
Channel 4’s own research estimates that up to 1,300 jobs would be lost in the companies the broadcaster deals with if it were taken out of public ownership.