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So, what does the Channel 4 privatisation actually mean?

Will we still get to watch it for free?


Yesterday (4th April), the government announced they’re going ahead with plans to privatise Channel 4.

In a leaked email, a source stated: “Ultimately the ownership of C4 is for Government to propose and Parliament to decide… It could take 18 months or more for the required legislation to go through the House of Commons and then Lords.”

The move has devastated viewers across the country, with one person tweeting: “Channel 4 privatisation is punishment for doing its job properly.” A Change.org user named E.L. McNally even started a petition to stop the proposal in its tracks – which has amassed over 37,000 signatures.

It seems like everyone’s expected to know what the privatisation of Channel 4 actually means. But with so many confusing terms, emotional tweets and think-pieces floating about, it can be tricky to know exactly what the facts are.

So… what does the proposal actually mean for the future of Channel 4? And, more importantly, will we still be able to watch it on TV for free?

How is Channel 4 funded at the moment?

While the BBC is publicly-funded through the license fee; Channel 4 is bankrolled commercially. This means the ads we see in-between shows are providing the channel with revenue.

Despite this, Channel Four Television Corporation (which also owns channels like 4Seven, More4 and E4) is owned entirely by the public. It was set up in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher’s government, with a view to providing a service for young people. The corporation is currently not-for-profit and there are no shareholders involved.

Is this a new idea?

hollyoaks channel 4

Photo via Channel 4

The government have been looking to sell Channel 4 on-and-off for years. In 2016, the then-culture secretary John Whittingdale led the proposal. At the time, they decided the amount of money coming in through public broadcasting was too much to justify privatisation – with a final decision made against it in 2017. According to The Guardian, the government branded Channel 4 a “precious public asset.”

So… what’s changed?

Secretary of State Nadine Dorries stated government ownership “is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.” The number of households using Netflix alone has increased by more than 10,000 since 2016; when the last bid for privatisation was announced.

According to Dorries: “A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future…  I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all.”

How much is Channel 4 worth?

channel 4 taskmaster

Photo via Channel 4

The TV channel is reportedly worth as much as £1 billion. While we don’t know for definite which companies are in the running to buy it out, alleged interested investors include ITV, Netflix and Discovery.

What does privatisation mean for the future of Channel 4?

In a 2016 report called The Consequences of Privatising Channel 4, the company estimated total investment in original content would drop by 44 per cent. It’s thought shows with little commercial value will be the first to get the chop.

As pointed out by several viewers, Channel 4 (alongside Film4) has played a key role in funding underrepresented British films, actors and filmmakers. The future for which remains foggy and uncertain.

More details are expected to be revealed as the “18 months” roll on – including whether the government intend to make us pay for the channel in a Netflix-style model, as speculated on social media.

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