May 9, 2022
In July 2021, the Government launched a consultation on a potential change of ownership of Channel 4. The consultation closed in September 2021, having received 56,293 responses.
The Government notes that most responses from individuals did not feel that there are challenges in the current broadcasting market that present barriers to a sustainable Channel 4 in public ownership. They felt that Channel 4 would not be better placed to deliver sustainably on the Government’s public service broadcasting aims outside of public ownership. They argued that Channel 4 is currently in a stable financial position and set out concerns that a change of ownership may negatively impact Channel 4’s delivery on its remit and its content.
Compared to responses from individuals, a smaller majority of stakeholder responses (including organisations, campaign groups, independent production companies, advertisers, broadcasters and academics) also took a similar position, whereas some recognised opportunities for Channel 4 under private ownership. Most respondents wanted to see Channel 4’s current remit and obligations remain. Respondents held more mixed views on the removal of the “publisher-broadcaster” restriction. Whilst many supported it remaining in place, there was some support for removing the restriction, whilst others were unsure.
The response to the consultation published by the Government summarises the responses to the consultation in more detail, as well as setting out the Government’s own views.
The Government says that it recognises Channel 4’s success in delivering on its remit and its current financial performance. However, it says, “we cannot be short-termist in our thinking and must consider the longer-term outlook for Channel 4”. The Government believes that the investment in content and technology needed to survive and thrive in this rapidly changing media landscape will be delivered at greater scale and with greater pace under private ownership, supported by private-sector capital, rather than asking the taxpayer to bear the associated risk.
The Government notes that Channel 4 has itself stated that it both wants and needs to grow. The Government welcomes that ambition and says that to achieve it Channel 4 will need to invest and innovate more and faster. As for all public sector broadcasters, it needs to be able to generate and own its own content. Having greater access to capital, and the ability to produce and sell its own content will give Channel 4 the best range of tools to accelerate and unleash its potential. The Government does not believe that private ownership has to be to the detriment of public good. It is not a binary choice, and the right owner will provide access to more investment, and support Channel 4’s role in delivering public good.
The Government says that this is not a decision it has taken lightly. It notes that the consultation generated considerable response, and that there is a “clear strength of feeling on this issue”. The Government says that it has taken the consultation responses into account and examined a broad range of other options outside of a change of ownership. It has worked closely with Channel 4’s management to understand the challenges and opportunities the changing market presents and different models and plans that might support Channel 4’s future. Ultimately, the Government believes investment in content and technology will be key to Channel 4’s future success. In the Government’s view, this can be delivered at greater scale and with greater pace under private ownership, supported by private-sector capital. To read the Government’s full response, click here.