Thursday 29 October 2020 6:47 pm

Channel 4 advertising bounces back amid privatisation threat

Channel 4 today said its advertising revenue had rebounded strongly from a coronavirus-induced slump as it shrugged off renewed threats of privatisation.

Earlier this month media minister John Whittingdale hinted that the government was mulling a sale of Channel 4, adding that its business model was under strain and may not be sustainable.

Read more: Media minister warns Channel 4 could be privatised in fresh broadcasting row

But the public service broadcaster today returned fire, saying it expected to end the year with a “significant financial surplus”.

Channel 4, which is government owned but relies on a commercial funding model, suffered a huge hit to revenues at the height of the coronavirus crisis in March, when the ad market collapsed by as much as 50 per cent.

As a result, the broadcaster slashed its content budget by £150m, cut £95m in costs and took out loans to help shore up its financial position.

But Channel 4 said advertising had now bounced back ahead of expectations, insisting that it would emerge from the crisis “stronger than ever”.

The company said its strengthened finances meant it could repay £1.5m in furlough payments to the government.

The Great British Bake Off broadcaster reported sharp growth in audiences over the lockdown period, with viewer numbers among 16 to 34-year-olds rising by a fifth.

Views on its All 4 streaming platform were also up 54 per cent at the height of the pandemic.

The update came as Channel 4 unveiled its delayed annual report for 2019.

The public service broadcaster posted a pre-tax loss of £26m for the year as it pumped money into new bases in Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol.

But overall revenue was up 10 per cent to £985m as the channel cashed in on hits such as Brexit: The Uncivil War and The End of the F***ing World. 

“2020 has undoubtedly been an incredibly challenging year, but Channel 4 is showing that we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever,” said chief executive Alex Mahon.

“We will end this year with a cash surplus and a robust financial position to protect against any further economic instability caused by Covid. We will also have a strong base from which to continue the next phase of our transformation, building on the success we have shown in 2019 and 2020 in growing our digital viewing and our digital revenues at pace.”

Read more: ITV to launch streaming unit and cut London office space in restructuring plan

Channel 4 said it would use its financial surplus to bolster its balance sheet in the face of continued Covid-19 pressures and Brexit uncertainty.

The broadcaster said it had also added £11m to this year’s content spend and planned to increase its 2021 content budget “significantly”.