Alex Mahon, the CEO of Channel 4, says there is “no data or evidence” that privatising the UK broadcaster would create a more diverse ecosystem, on a tumultuous day at RTS Cambridge.
Mahon was speaking on stage shortly after it emerged that the UK government had replaced Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, media culture & sport (DCMS), with Nadine Dorries.
She will now oversee the process surrounding C4’s potential privatisation, which many industry insiders have said would be a hammer blow to the UK production community.
Research by Ernst & Young showed that removing the publisher-broadcaster model would reduce its contribution to the UK’s creative economy by £2bn ($2.76bn) over the course of 10 years, while Ampere Analysis has said that up to 60 independent production companies could go out of business should the channel be privatised.
While the UK government has said C4’s advertising-based funding model must change to deal with US-based streamers transforming the UK landscape, Mahon argued that the broadcaster was in good financial shape.
“Do we want C4 to stand still? Definitely not,” said Mahon, adding that the broadcaster was in the midst of a “massive transition to digital”.
Senior execs from across the UK media landscape have this week skirted the issue of whether they would look to buy C4, with ITV’s Carolyn McCall and Sky’s Dana Strong both pointing to the fact that the process remains at its early stages.
However, Mahon said that if the broadcaster moved into private hands its ability to commission “diverse output” would be reduced. She pointed to the recent US Open tennis final won by Emma Raducanu, which C4 aired following a “seven-figure deal” with Amazon, as a case where the broadcaster’s funding model made it feasible.
McCall, meanwhile said ITV had also bid on the show but had been unable to make the commercial side of the deal work.
“Shows such as It’s A Sin was rejected by every commercial broadcaster,” Mahon continued, who also pointed to Black To Front that aired last week as an idea that would not have made it onto screens if C4 had a private owner.
She added that a private owner would likely also cut the number of suppliers to C4 – which last year stood at 274 – and said if she was running a privatised C4, she would likely remove rights protections.