Channel 4, the publically owned free-to-air channel, could be sold to private stakeholders within the next three years, according to the Culture Secretary. That, and other options, are being considered in light of how streaming services and digital Video on Demand are changing the television landscape in the UK.
Channel 4 was established as a commercial channel back in 1982, and is owned by the government.
The channel is funded mainly by adverts and the selling of its content overseas, with all of its profits being reinvested back into the company.
Channel 4 uses a unique ‘publisher broadcaster’ model, with no in-house productions at all – instead, content is commissioned from various UK production companies.
Some of Channel 4’s popular properties over the year include The Inbetweeners, Skins, Grand Designs, Come Dine with Me, and – more recently – the top-rated Russell T. Davies drama, It’s A Sin.
The channel is available for free on both Freeview (with an aerial) and Freesat, and also has a streaming platform, All4, with content on-demand.
Some of Channel 4’s content is also available for streaming on BritBox, the streaming subscription service owned by ITV and the BBC.
During a meeting of the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden spoke about the government’s future plans for Channel 4 – and the possibility of it being privatised.
According to Mr Dowden, he will be asking the committee to look into the future of Channel 4 next week.
“The first stage is for the committee to look at the best model for Channel 4”, he said. “There are a number of questions we have to ask:
“How is the best way that it can be sustained going into the future, does that necessarily mean that it continues to be publicly owned or do we look into the privatisation of Channel 4. That is one of the options under consideration.”
John Whittingdale, the Culture Minister, also spoke in the past about the option of selling off Channel 4, saying that the channel was struggling financially, and asking “whether there is still a need for a second publicly owned public service broadcaster.”
In yesterday’s discussion, the Culture Secretary emphasized that he is not announcing the sale of Channel 4 at this point – but that as part of the review of the future, it is an option to look at.
“You have to look at the rapidly changing broadcasting landscape”, Mr Dowden added. “When you and I were kids, you’d go home and look at whatever was on the box – depending on quite how old you are, there were one two or three channels.
“That changed to services on demand which is what we have now, against a backdrop of rapid consolidation, big players. Even the BBC looks relatively small against that backdrop.
“How do we build on the huge contribution that Channel 4 has made to the creative industries, and what’s the appropriate model for that going forward?”
The Secretary also said that by the end of this decade – if not sooner – the amount of Channel 4’s content that is consumed via digital and streaming means, will exceed what’s consumed via the linear platform – which is more reason to debate the appropriate model for the channel going forward.
Asked whether Channel 4 could be privatised within this Parliament, Mr Dowden said they have not ruled that out.