Tuesday 22 June 2021 1:49 pm

Channel 4 boss warns of ‘irreversible’ privatisation risk

The chief executive of Channel 4 has warned against any “irreversible” decision to privatise the broadcaster, saying it could have a damaging impact on the wider sector.

Channel 4 has come under increasing pressure from ministers as they prepare to launch a consultation into a potential sale.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has previously said that all options were “on the table” for the future of the channel, while last week it emerged privatisation could be chosen as soon as next year.

But boss Alex Mahon today warned her company could have “different priorities” if it is moved out of public ownership.

“The government has a right to look at it [privatisation],” she told reporters. “It hasn’t looked at it for five years, I think, maybe four-and-a-half, and it’s reasonable to look at it from time to time, and a lot has changed in that time.

“But I think, in any examination of it, we’ve got to be clear that it’s about – as the secretary of state said to the select committee – about making Channel 4 stronger.

“And, you know, my question would be: what’s the analysis to show what makes us stronger?”

Mahon pointed to the fact that Channel 4 does not pursue a profit, but rather pumps money back into the British production sector. She warned this would not continue under a commercial business model.

Streaming push

Channel 4, which is owned by the government but commercially-funded through advertising, has faced growing competition as younger audiences increasingly tune in to streaming rivals.

But Mahon today insisted Channel 4 was in “excellent health” financially despite the impact of the pandemic.

In its annual report published today the broadcaster reported a record financial surplus of £74m, spurred on by growth in its streaming business.

Digital advertising revenue rose 11 per cent last year, while the company is on track to post total revenue of more than £1bn for the first time ever this year.

As a result, Channel 4 said it will ramp up its planned content spend in 2021 and 2022 by an additional £40m.

Mahon saw her pay packet increase by almost £50,000 to £991,000 last year. Chairman Charles Gurassa today said the bonuses granted to bosses were the result of their “stellar performances”.

The youth-oriented broadcaster has been increasing its focus on streaming amid increasing competition from deep-pocketed US rivals such as Netflix and Amazon.

The channel said its strong performance had been boosted by hit shows such as It’s A Sin, Gogglebox and Married at First Sight Australia.

In a further effort to stave off privatisation efforts, Channel 4 has vowed to move more of its staff out of London.

The group’s new Leeds headquarters will officially open in September and the company said it was ahead of its target of moving 300 roles out of the capital by 2021.

Channel 4 also said it is on track to spend 50 per cent of its UK original programme budget with producers in nations and regions this year — two years ahead of its original target.