As you may be aware, the Government is proposing to privatise Channel 4, a broadcasting network that has been hugely successful in supporting the independent production sector in the UK since its creation in 1982. The distinctively British content produced by the broadcaster has been significant to the success of the creative sector in the UK, but the industry has undergone much development since the network’s inception.
Channel 4 is a self-financing public corporation which is publicly owned but commercially run. When it was originally established, this was to provide greater choice to both consumers, and producers. However, with the growing variation in platforms on which audiences can enjoy creative content, and with the independent production sector growing vastly, the Culture Secretary has concluded that Government ownership of Channel 4 is restricting the network from competing against multinational streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon.
These large global competitors have significant financial and operational resources compared to UK PSBs (UK Public Service Broadcasters). This has driven up the costs for UK PSBs with a need for enhanced investment in content and technology to keep up with contenders. The change of ownership will offer Channel 4 the liberty to continue its achievements as a public service broadcaster in the long term and enable the corporation to further contribute economically, socially, and culturally across the UK.
The broadcasting White Paper has set out further details on the proposals for a change of ownership of Channel 4. Under private ownership, there will be a removal of the restrictions that prohibit it from producing and selling its own content. The removal of such restrictions will enable the company to diversify its revenue streams and improve long-term sustainability. Channel 4 will still be required to commission a minimum volume of programming from independent producers, in line with the quotas placed on other PBSs, to protect its contribution to the sector. This ensures that small TV and film producers may enter into the industry with the same ease as they currently can.
Furthermore, the company’s existing obligations for regional production outside of London will be maintained, boosting local economies by investing in vital jobs and nurturing talent across the UK. Its commitment to providing distinctive, educational, innovative, and experimental programming will continue through the privatisation of the firm with similar ‘original’ and ‘British’ programmes, high quality news and current affairs broadcasting.
Finally, the Culture Secretary will use the proceeds of the sale to further level up the creative sector. The investment of the profits into independent production and expressive skills will deliver a creative dividend for all. As the UK film industry produced more films than Hollywood in the last quarter of 2021, delivering this funding will be key for the sector and will help drive further growth.