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UK government’s Channel 4 privatisation plan faces delay as opposition grows

The proposed privatisation of UK commercially funded public service broadcaster Channel 4 is facing delay after the government was inundated with responses to its public consultation on the controversial move.

Alex Mahon

The government’s recently appointed culture secretary Nadine Dorries has been “overwhelmed” by opposition to the proposed sale of C4, according to The Sunday Times.

The consultation period on the future of The Great British Bake Off broadcaster between July 6 and September 14 resulted in 60,000 submissions, to which Dorries had been due to respond this month.

However, the number of responses received means this will be pushed back until next month or early 2022, which will also delay any potential sale.

The UK government, which has appointed JP Morgan to provide corporate finance advice on the possible change in ownership, argues that selling C4 to a private owner would be the best way for the broadcaster to compete with US streamers.

However, the response to the plans from the UK TV industry and the broadcaster itself has been overwhelmingly negative.

Bosses at C4 have been outspoken about their opposition to privatisation, with CEO Alex Mahon saying in September: “We have not seen any evidence that the irreversible change of privatising C4 will be in the interests of either British audiences or the UK’s economy, and it could well have serious and long-lasting consequences for our world-leading television production sector.”

Sections of the UK independent production sector have also been vocal in their opposition, arguing the plans could see numerous indies go out of business if they go ahead.

Several potential buyers have been circling the commercially funded pubcaster in recent weeks, including fellow commercial broadcaster ITV and C4’s former CEO Lord Michael Grade.

Lord Grade, who is also a former BBC chairman and ITV executive chairman and has been a Conservative Party life peer in the House of Lords since 2011, is currently chair of the board of directors at Miroma, a private company led by media entrepreneur Marc Boyan. According to The Sunday Times, Miroma has been looking at potentially acquiring C4 with bankers at Rothschild.

Along with ITV, Comcast-owned Sky, Discovery, which is set to merge with fellow US media giant WarnerMedia, and ViacomCBS are all reportedly interested in C4, while at least one US private equity firm has sought out advisors.

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