The government will sell Channel 4 before the next general election after ministers decide privatization is the best way to “sustain” the UK public service broadcasting sector.
Government officials say the commercially funded but state-owned broadcaster is expected to be set up for bidding by the end of 2023, a move that could raise more than 1 billion.
Following a consultation on the privatization of Channel 4, the ministers decided that government ownership was “holding it back in the face of a rapidly changing and competitive media landscape”, officials said.
In a statement, Channel 4 said it was “disappointed” with the decision, adding that privatization would “require a lengthy legal process”.
“Channel 4 is committed to the Government in good faith throughout the consultation process, showing how it can launch many favorite programs from independent sectors across the UK that represent and celebrate every aspect of British life as well as enhance its contribution to society and the public.” While maintaining ownership, ”the broadcaster said.
Its executives have previously warned against harming the network’s public mission through “irreversible” privatization.
Ministers will want to reinvest sales proceeds into a “creative dividend” – investing in independent production and leveling greater creative skills in priority parts of the country.
The broadcaster will have a “public service broadcaster”, which means you have to be committed to primetime news.
A white paper policy document is expected before the end of the month and sales proposals are expected to be included in a new media bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech. Ministers are expecting a sale before the 2024 general election.
The broadcaster generates more than 90 percent of its revenue from advertising, which supports spending on its commissions that appeal to young, diverse audiences and champion alternative approaches.
Since its inception in 1982, the so-called publisher-broadcaster model has enabled Channel 4 to provide its public service remittances without resorting to taxpayer assistance.
But it is facing serious challenges as global streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Disney account for a larger share of audience and production costs in the UK. Channel 4’s reach, which accounted for about 10 percent of viewers’ share, fell 3.7 percent last year.
Government officials say the change of ownership will “remove its straightjack”, giving broadcasters “the freedom to innovate and grow so that it can improve and improve in the long run in the future and support the creative industry across the UK”.
But Lucy Powell, shadow culture secretary, said on Twitter: Selling Channel 4, which does not cost the taxpayer a penny, which could be a foreign company, does not make any sense at all. It will cost jobs and opportunities in Yorkshire and hurt our creative economy. “
Claire Anders, founder of media research firm Anders Analysis, says Channel 4 could be owned by a company that “wants the best” instead of “a government that doesn’t want it.”
He warned, however, that the necessary legislation process could be lengthy and extend beyond the next election, adding that Channel 4 and other governments may have a different attitude toward privatization.
Over the weekend, the government announced that Sir Ian Cheshire, currently a non-executive director of telecom group BT, would take over the Channel 4 chair later this month.
An established businessman, Sir Ian has held various positions in the private sector, including the chair of Barclays, the group chief executive of Kingfisher, and the chief executive of B&Q. In the public sector, he has also held the position of non-executive director in the cabinet office.
The three-year appointment was confirmed by Culture Secretary Nadine Doris, who praised Sir Ian’s “impressive record of Britain’s largest business establishment”.
“I am confident that his proven leadership will help Channel 4 to become stronger and ensure that it will be sustainable in the future in the face of rapid change in this sector,” he said on Saturday.