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C4 hits back at new privatisation plans

C4 has cited hits like It’s a Sin as resulting from its ‘public service ethos’

Channel 4 in the UK has reacted strongly against the latest government plans to privatise the commercially funded public service broadcaster.

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport yesterday confirmed it will consult on the sale of C4, which is itself opposed to privatisation and fiercely rebuffed similar plans when they were mooted in 2016.

Claiming the move could “ensure its future success and sustainability,” the government has pointed to ITV and ViacomCBS-owned Channel 5 as examples of successful privately owned commercial pubcasters.

However, during the broadcaster’s announcement of its 2020 report, C4 CEO Alex Mahon cited the broadcaster’s delivery of a record financial surplus of £74m (US$103m) last year to show it was in “excellent health.”

The exec, who oversaw the move of the broadcaster’s headquarters from London to Leeds, told journalists: “We’ve always got to be careful of doing anything that might be irreversible that could possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector and that we do for the UK.

“We have grown our digital revenues ahead of the market, and with a record financial surplus and a clear digital transformation strategy, we are well positioned to continue delivering impact for UK audiences, particularly younger viewers, well into the future.”

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden has said the rationale behind C4’s privatisation would be to allow it to “access new capital, create strategic partnerships and reach international markets only available through the private sector.”

He said: “Changes to the model may also allow C4 to diversify its income streams, enable it to invest in new technology and produce new content and programming.

“This would better allow C4 to compete and strengthen its role as a public service broadcaster and secure the long-term benefits it can bring to the creative industries and to audiences.”

C4 programming boss Ian Katz added that the broadcaster’s “public service ethos” was key to its delivery of hit programmes such as It’s a Sin and it would be a huge risk to lose it.

UK independent producers’ trade association Pact warned that any sale of C4, which relies on many of its members for programming, would represent a dangerous move.

“The channel is a thriving dynamic and successful public service broadcaster and a catalyst for generations of entrepreneurs,” said Pact CEO John McVay. “The government’s plans to sell off C4 will damage small businesses across the UK at a time when they are recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding their businesses.”

McVay said C4’s profits were “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.”

He said: “This proposal will damage British SMEs at a time when we should be focusing on building back better after the pandemic.”

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