The future of Channel 4 Contents

Chapter 1: Channel 4 in the public service broadcasting landscape

1.Public service broadcasters (PSBs) have long been central to the consumption and production of TV programmes in the UK. They include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, which operate throughout the UK, and STV, S4C and UTV, which operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. PSBs are defined by six characteristics: to be high-quality, original, innovative, challenging, widely available and distinctive.1

2.Channel 4 Corporation (C4C) has been a state-owned, commercially funded public service broadcaster since 1982. It operates a portfolio of channels in addition to its main channel: E4, More4, Film4 and 4seven. Programmes are available online through its video-on-demand service, All 4.

3.On 6 July 2021, the Government launched a consultation on privatising C4C. The consultation paper stated that privatisation was currently the Government’s preferred option.2 The consultation closed on 14 September and the Government is now considering the responses.

4.In 2016, when privatisation was last considered, our predecessor committee concluded that the risks of privatisation, both for C4C and for the creative industries, outweighed any potential benefits.3

5.As we discussed in Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever, the landscape in which PSBs operate is rapidly changing. They face growing competition, both for viewers and for production crews, from subscription video-on-demand services (SVODs) such as Netflix and Amazon.4 Since we produced our report in November 2019, there has been further significant change. Young people aged 16–24 now spend more than twice as much time watching SVODs and YouTube each day (163 minutes) as watching live TV, recorded TV and broadcaster video-on-demand services combined (78 minutes).5

6.In November 2020, the Government set up an advisory panel to make recommendations on the future of public service broadcasting. The panel had met five times as of 12 October 2021. The Government has consulted on the regulation of video-on-demand platforms and Ofcom made a series of recommendations to the Government on the future of public service media on 15 July 2021.6 These recommendations include:

7.In June 2021, Enders Analysis warned: “Singling out Channel 4 for special treatment, without an overarching vision for reforming the UK public service broadcasting landscape in this period of rapid change, is foolhardy and shows a lack of appreciation as to the interdependence of the constituent parts.”8

8.Robert Specterman-Green, Director, Media and Creative Industries at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told us that the Government will set out its position on the ownership of C4C as part of a statement of its view of the future of public service broadcasting in a White Paper.9

9.The Government should not have consulted on the future of C4C—and stated that privatisation was its preferred option—before explaining its proposals for the future of public service broadcasting. Although we welcome the Government’s commitment to set out its position on these issues in a White Paper, it is difficult to reach a conclusive view on the ownership of C4C without understanding the future public service broadcasting landscape of which it would be a part. Instead, this report analyses challenges and opportunities which must be central to any final decision.


1 Ofcom, ‘Public service broadcasting in the digital age’ (8 March 2018), p 3: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/111896/Public-service-broadcasting-in-the-digital-age.pdf [accessed 9 November 2021]

2 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Consultation on a potential change of ownership of Channel 4 Television Corporation (6 July 2021): https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-a-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4-television-corporation/consultation-on-a-potential-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4-television-corporation [accessed 9 November 2021]

3 Communications Committee, A privatised future for Channel 4? (1st Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 17)

4 Communications and Digital Committee, Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever (1st Report, Session 2019, HL Paper 16)

5 Ofcom, Media Nations 2021: Interactive report (5 August 2021): https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/tv-radio-and-on-demand/media-nations-reports/media-nations-2021/interactive-report [accessed 9 November 2021]

6 Q 63 (Robert Specterman-Green)

7 Ofcom, Small Screen: Big Debate (15 July 2021), p 6: https://www.smallscreenbigdebate.co.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/221954/statement-future-of-public-service-media.pdf [accessed 9 November 2021]

8 Enders Analysis, ‘Channel 4 Privatisation, here we go again’ (22 June 2021): https://www.endersanalysis.com/reports/channel-4-privatisation-here-we-go-again [accessed 9 November 2021]




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