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Officials signal end of privatization push for Channel 4

Plans to privatize the British public broadcaster Channel 4 may be over after leading government officials said they are working with the media brand on new business models.

On Tuesday, the country’s Media and Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said she was working with executives at Channel 4 on different funding models that could help make it sustainable amid a wave of competition from private broadcasters and streaming services.

“I’ve been looking at other options on sustainability and discussing those with Channel 4 as to how feasible they are,” Donelan told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee during a recent meeting. “If we go down one of those roads, we would need them to fully sign up and agree to that.”

Those alternate plans could call for Channel 4 to sell its London headquarters and move the core of its operation to the north of England, which could help reduce marketing and distribution expenses. Another facet of the revised business model would see Channel 4 make its original programming available globally through a commercial streaming service, instead of licensing content to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

If those plans move forward, it would undo nearly two years of efforts by conservative lawmakers to privatize the channel, which is publicly-owned but receives no revenue from the television tax imposed on British households. (Channel 4’s revenue comes from advertisements; the country’s main public broadcaster, the BBC, reaps the benefits of the television tax.)

In 2021, then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said ministers were crafting plans to convert Channel 4 from a publicly-owned broadcast outlet into a privately-held media brand. The move, which was backed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his supporters, would have ended nearly 40 years of Channel 4’s mission of providing alternative programming to the mainstream shows and movies broadcast on the BBC and the country’s main commercial broadcaster, ITV.

A number of suitors were said to be lined up for Channel 4, including Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), The Desk reported last year. WBD already owns a number of pay television channels in the United Kingdom and across Europe, including the multiplex sports network Eurosport, which holds the rights to the Olympic Games in some European countries.

While plans to privatize Channel 4 have generated strong concern from officials who believe it could diminish the value of the network, lawmakers appeared to be pushing for the sale as recently as April.

“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,” Nadine Dorries, who was the head secretary for media and culture at the time, said in a statement.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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