The UK government has abandoned its plans to privatise commercially funded pubcaster Channel 4 (C4).
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan has recommended that plans to sell off the It’s A Sin broadcaster are dropped in a letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak, leaked to the News Agents podcast.
Donelan wrote in the letter that there are “better ways to ensure C4’s sustainability” than privatisation, which had been proposed by Boris Johnson’s government last year. The plans received opposition from politicians and industry figures, including Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, who warned that privatisation could cause “irreversible” damage to the UK TV sector.
“After reviewing the business case, I have concluded that pursing a sale at this point is not the right decision,” wrote Donelan, telling the prime minister that the sector “would be very disrupted by a sale at a time when growth and economic stability are our priortities.”
The culture secretary has instead proposed to give Channel 4 greater flexibility to make and distribute its own shows internationally, which it is currently unable to do.
“C4 is commercially funded and the majority of its funding comes from linear TV advertising revenue, which is in long-term decline,” wrote Donelan. “Unlike other broadcasters, C4 cannot mitigate this decline by making and owning its own content due to its status as a ‘publisher-broadcaster.’
“I intend to legislate to relax the publisher-broadcaster restriction, giving C4 the flexibility to make some of its own content and diversify its revenue more effectively.”
Then culture secretary Oliver Dowden first propsed a formal review into selling Channel 4 in June 2021, following months of speculation about the service’s future. Channel 4 has been owned by the UK government since its launch in 1982, but ministers argued that the rise of streaming services has changed the landscape to such an extent that the broadcaster may be better placed in private ownership.