Review to form part of autumn broadcasting white paper

Horseferry Road C4 2

The government has fired the starting gun on its consultation surrounding the privatisation of Channel 4, with plans to publish its findings in the autumn.

The consultation document will be issued in the next couple of weeks and the review will run for eight to 12 weeks, before a broadcasting white paper is published this autumn. The white paper will also include the findings of Ofcom’s Future PSB review and the government’s Future of PSB panel, comprising minister’s strategic review of the PSB system.

The DCMS will consider whether selling C4 and changing its remit would help secure its future as a successful and sustainable PSB and secure long-term benefits for the creative industries and audiences.

Writing in The Times this morning (23 June), Culture secretary Oliver Dowden indicated that he is minded to change the status quo. 

He said: “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. Private investment would mean more content, more jobs and a more sustainable future for Channel 4.”

Announcing the plan for a consultation, the government said that privatisation could allow C4 to access new capital, create strategic partnerships and reach international markets, along with diversifying its income streams, investing in technology and producing programming.

C4’s reliance on advertising revenue – which accounts for 90% of its income – was highlighted as making it ‘particularly vulnerable’ to market fluctuations and any declines in linear TV ad spend.

Oliver Dowden

Oliver Dowden

Dowden said: “The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters. We’ll now be looking at how we can help make sure Channel 4 keeps its place at the heart of British broadcasting.”

Later today (22 June), a written ministerial statement will formally set out its plans to parliament.

The move comes the day after C4 published its annual results, which chairman Charles Gurassa hailed a “stunning” success. C4 posted revenues of £934m, down 5% year-on-year despite the financial impact of the pandemic.

Chief exec Alex Mahon said its performance underlines its sustainability. “As we emerge from one of the worst crises of our lifetime, we are stronger and more able to take on our public service mission than ever before,” she said.

VoD regulation

As part of its consultation, DCMS is to review video-on-demand regulation.

It is keen to assess whether the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ should be subject to the same rules as linear broadcasters.

It will consider whether rules around age ratings, impartiality and accuracy, as well as fair success metrics are needed for the streamers.

DCMS claimed that the inconsistent and ad-hoc nature of VoD regulation opens “harmful gaps” and creates a disadvantage between the UK broadcasters and the US giants.

Dowden said: “Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.”