Channel 4 fears privatisation would hit beyond programming

The UK’s Channel 4 has issued a detailed response to the DCMS consultation on a potential change in its ownership.

The commercially funded public broadcaster is defending itself against plans from the Conservative government to privatise the channel.

There would be no greater impact than on its programming that its says could result in “reduced diversity and quality of content for viewers”. It quotes Andy Harries, Chief Executive of Left Bank Pictures which produces The Crown, who says the broadcaster was key to his early career: “If Channel 4 had not rescued The Deal [a 2003 film produced by Left Bank and written by Peter Morgan who went on to write The Crown], it is almost certain The Crown would not have existed”.

Channel 4 argues that rather than being overly reliant on declining advertising revenues, it says it addressing the challenges more effectively than its competitors and shifting more quickly than others to digital. It is projecting revenues of over £1 billion for the first time in its history with growth of over 13% compared to 2019. Digital revenues are forecast to be up 32% year-on-year and comprise 19% of our total revenues.

It also believes it is resilient, having ended 2020 with a record financial surplus of £74 million, despite the effects of the global pandemic. It says prudent cost cutting demonstrated it had an agile business.

There are also fears that a move to public ownership would impact across the full range of programming, beyond any quotas required under its licence. It says this can already be seen though the EDITA margin of the privately owned public broadcaster ITV.

“A private owner would have a natural and legitimate incentive to seek both to dilute the more commercially onerous parts of the channel’s remit and to scale back those additional public benefits, whether that is covering public service themes in our mainstream programmes or our training and skills initiatives, which are not mandated by the statutory remit,” the broadcaster says.

Channel 4 believes its content, from the Tokyo Paralympics, to the Black to Front initiative and most recently bringing Emma Raducanu’s US Open triumph, are demonstrations of what can do that cannot be replicated by even the other public broadcasters.