The privatisation of Channel 4, the regulation of streaming services and prominence for public service broadcasters are included in a new White Paper on broadcasting.
Whether Channel 4 should be privatised has long been a topic of discussion for Conservative governments. When Channel 4 was established in 1982 the broadcaster’s alternative remit covered areas often seen as outside the mainstream.
“I want to make sure Channel 4 thrives for another 40 years, and so I believe it’s time to seriously consider changes to its current public ownership model,” said Culture secretary Oliver Dowden. “That model severely restricts Channel 4’s ability to access capital and compete with commercial broadcasters by investing in technology and programming.”
It is also a model that since its inception has seen Channel 4 commission all of its programmes from the independent production sector its very presence helped to foster. Even its flagship Channel 4 News is produced by a third-party broadcaster, ITN.
John McVay, CEO of Pact, which represents the independent producers said: “Pact is very concerned about the Government’s proposal for the future of Channel 4, as their profits are reinvested in hundreds of British companies who not only make high quality, diverse programmes for the British public, but exploit their IP around the globe taking those programmes to international audiences and bringing money back to the UK economy.”
A consultation on the sale of Channel 4 will take place in the summer. “I will be proceeding on the basis that an alternative ownership model (but one where it keeps its public service remit) may be better for the broadcaster, and better for the country,” said Dowden.
Exactly who would bid for Channel 4 is uncertain. There is the prospect that like Channel 5 it could find its way into US hands or perhaps one of the ‘super-indies’ that have been created through the merger of a number of production companies.
Prominence of public service broadcasters within online platforms, including smart TVs will also be consulted on this summer as will the regulation of streaming services.
Dowden says PSBs need to be given “sufficient visibility”.