What does the Channel 4 decision mean for the future of media?
Not selling Channel 4 is a landmark move
For those who remember the first transmission of Channel 4 in 1982, launching with the first episode of the beloved Countdown and becoming the country’s fourth television service; the idea of it being privatised represented the death of public broadcast television.
In the face of mounting competition from the global streaming platforms, the conversation over the future ownership of Channel 4 has raged on for several years, with financial pressures making it seem that privatisation was going to be inevitable.
This week’s announcement by Michelle Donelan, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, that Channel 4 would not be sold, represents a landmark decision in UK media history and sets out the future of such media in this country.
Speaking about the decision Donelan explained ‘Channel 4 is a British success story and a linchpin of our booming creative industries… after reviewing the business case and engaging with the relevant sectors I have decided that Channel 4 should not be sold’.
Given Channel 4’s historical position as a torchbearer for the independent production sector, the decision and accompanying support package, to help the future development of the channel, will be a huge relief for the independent film industry. The increased investment should provide aspiring independent producers support to continue to produce innovative content on the platform and is a huge boost for the independent media sector. The government announcement included the promise of a doubling of the channel’s ‘skills investment’ to £10 million and a commitment to double the number of jobs available outside of London from 300 to 600, boosting the independent production industry across the country.
The support package offered to Channel 4 represents a considerable relaxing of the channel’s publisher-broadcaster restrictions, Channel 4 is now freed up from its reliance on advertising revenue to survive and has the opportunity to monetise and create its own content. As well as the ability to monetise its own content, the new reforms also give Channel 4 greater access to drawing down on its £75 million credit facility, providing a more sustainable financial footing.
This is an exciting new chapter for Channel 4, and the independent production sector more broadly, with greater commercial flexibility combined with the continuation of its role promoting independent producers and film makers.
The big question remains, has this decision merely delayed inevitable privatisation or does it represent a revival of public broadcasters?