Channel 4 revealed the true extent of the government’s privatisation detour this morning, outlining its own radical alternative in a mighty comeback.
Speaking at a media briefing , chief exec Alex Mahon said that Channel 4 (C4) had presented the government with a plan to keep the broadcaster in public hands before last week’s white paper, which would give the broadcaster access to private capital and debt.
These ambitions included heavy investment in talented young people, regional stories, as well as emphasising the importance of home-grown shows.
They would have also contributed to over £11bn of gross value add to the UK, and supported more than 13,000 jobs.
While this proposal was seemingly overlooked by the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who instead laid out plans to abolish the publisher broadcaster model, Mahon said she was “optimistic” about her ability to influence the debate moving forward.
“I’m not against private capital or making money in business, but I know the impact that [privatisation] would have on Channel 4 better than anyone else”, Mahon commented.
Analyst at Enders Analysis Tom Harrington told City A.M. this morning was C4’s opportunity to pushback against Dorries’ plans, stating “It’s still not too late for Channel 4”.
Channel 4’s immense success in recent years is a particular asset for Mahon’s arsenal. Indeed, as an entirely self-funded broadcaster, 2021 was the channel’s strongest ever year, reaching record revenue of £1.2bn and a financial surplus of £100m. From a macro perspective, C4 also currently generates around £1bn for the UK economy.
On top of this, the C4 chief took the chance to highlight the 96 per cent of Brits that raised concerns about privatisation in the public consultation, digging the knife deeper into advocates and driving home the centrality of hit shows like It’s A Sin in culture.
However, in response to yesterday’s coverage, a DCMS spokesperson said: “Channel 4 itself accepts change is needed so it can thrive long into the future but this previously leaked report is based on flawed assumptions and out of date analysis”.
They said it failed to acknowledge the benefits of the white paper, such as using the sale proceeds to deliver a creative dividend for skills and investment in indie production companies outside of London
On a separate note, Mahon said C4’s proposals were not about holding on to the “status quo” as some critics have suggested, but rather appreciating the changing landscape of broadcasting and TV: seemingly the one thing C4 seemed to have in common with the white paper.
However, as last month showed, even by the biggest US streamers have felt the pressure of keeping up with the times…
Netflix’s disastrous subscriber plunge emphasised how even the most successful subscription services need to cut back on spending, and pivot offerings.
Though this could be framed as a reason why Nadine Dorries should plough forward with privatisation, it could also be deemed as a reason to not change C4 if it isn’t broken.
On this, some may ask why Mahon and her team have waited until after the white paper to provide clarity and transparency on its position: surely it would have made sense to air these views to the public before the government ran forward with plans?
In response to this, Mahon explained the rationale behind this was rooted in “respect” for the government’s decision making, as well as to the countless stakeholders involved.
She said that though she was optimistic that the government could move forward with a plan that works for the broadcaster, the driving point is that C4 has had an immense trajectory in the last few years and it would be a shame to completely unpick that
“We need to be careful that we don’t create unintended consequences”, she stated.