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C4 makes first indie investments

UK pubcaster Channel 4 (C4) has bought into four factual indies, marking the first phase of a £20m (US$33m) investment in local production companies, and is now eyeing others in genres including drama.

The broadcaster has taken minority stakes in Arrow Media, Lightbox, True North and Popkorn, as part of it ‘Growth Fund’ initiative detailed at the beginning of this year.

Arrow was set up three years ago by Darlow Smithson co-founder John Smithson and colleagues Tom Brisley and Iain Pelling and its credits include C4 and National Geographic’s ambitious Live From Space two-hour broadcast back in March.

Lightbox launched last year, founded by Searching for Sugar Man and Man on Wire producer Simon Chinn and his cousin Jonathan Chinn, a respected non-fiction showrunner in the US who previously picked up an Emmy for Fox and PBS series American High.

Thirteen year-old True North’s co-founders and creative directors are Jess Fowle and Andrew Sheldon, and MD, Marc Allen, with credits including Junior Vets for CBBC, The Valleys for MTV and Closing Time for Channel 5.

Popkorn, meanwhile, was formed five years ago by Rory Wheeler and Colin Moxon and counts Football Behind Bars for Sky 1, Living With My Stalker and Ria: Diary of Teenage Transsexual for Channel 4 among its shows.

C4 received applications from around 100 companies following the announcement of the Growth Fund, an initiative designed to aid the growth and development of British creative businesses, from which it whittled down around 50. The four investments it has unveiled today were a mix of some of those but also companies that C4 itself approached.

The pubcaster has spent around a quarter of its initial £20m pot on this first batch of firms and has now lined up a string of other potential candidates for further investments beyond the factual space, with drama one genre on the agenda.

“We’ve been able to invest in four diverse British independent producers and I hope both Channel 4 and the wider industry will benefit from their future success,” said C4 CEO David Abraham. “This is just the start and we will be announcing more deals over the course of the next year.”

Laura Franses, Channel 4’s Head of Fund said: “It was incredible to be on the front line of this pioneering initiative and see how well the Growth Fund was received by the indie community.

“We had a difficult task to narrow the investments down but are thrilled to have found companies that are both creatively and commercially dynamic and fit together to form an exciting portfolio of investments,” added C4 head of fund Laura Franses, the former Nutopia MD, who took on her present role six months ago.

Abraham’s initial announcement of the fund at the Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge last September had some industry observers questioning whether C4′s public service licence would allow it to make such investments. But regulator Ofcom gave the all clear due to the minority nature of the buy-ins – less than 25% in each case for a period of up to five years.

Concerns the pubcaster may favour those it has put money into linger within the indie sector but C4 has no first-look arrangement and insists its commitment is about continuing to stimulate the UK indie sector across the board at a time of unprecedented M&A activity.

In his MacTaggart keynote here in Edinburgh later today Abraham is expected to join the BBC in taking up a tougher stance towards predominantly US-owned super-indies and position C4 as a champion of smaller British businesses.


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