The UK government has officially opened a consultation on the potential privatisation of public broadcaster Channel 4.
The government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last month announced a review into whether privatising the broadcaster “could help secure its future” and this move formally confirms that review.
In its description of the consultation, the government notes that “Channel 4 has successfully delivered on its remit, aims and objectives since it began broadcasting almost 40 years ago,” but that “the evolving media landscape poses material challenges to Channel 4’s future success and sustainability under its current ownership model and remit.”
The government also makes explicit that its “preferred option is to facilitate a change of ownership of Channel 4, which it believes will give it greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities, allowing it to compete effectively in a more agile fashion and ensuring it has the best chance of a successful and sustainable future.”
But while it prefers a change in ownership, the government said that it wants to keep Channel 4 as a public service broadcaster.
In his ministerial foreword to the review, culture secretary Oliver Dowden stated that “this is 2021, not 1982” and that “the broadcasting landscape has changed beyond recognition.”
He added: “It is our current view, to be tested through this consultation, that a new ownership model for Channel 4 would be the best means of ensuring its future success and sustainability as a public service broadcaster and its continued contribution to the UK’s creative industries. There are constraints that come with public ownership, and a new owner could bring access and benefits, including access to capital, to strategic partnerships and to the international markets. Private investment would mean more content, and more jobs.”
The minister pointed to the commercial and audience successes of Channel 5 since its sale to ViacomCBS three years ago.
Dowden concluded: “Ultimately we want Channel 4 to keep its place at the heart of British broadcasting. We want to see it flourish and contribute to our wider plans to supercharge the creative industries; driving economic growth, unleashing investment, creating jobs and building on our international competitiveness.”
While the government has laid out its case for privatising the broadcaster, critics have argued that this reasoning is ‘flimsy’ and that Channel 4’s boundary-pushing content like the celebrated It’s A Sin “wouldn’t survive a sell-off”.