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Channel 4 sell-off ‘may destroy what is special’ about broadcaster, says TV boss

·3-min read

Privatising Channel 4 risks destroying what is “special” about the broadcaster, its chief content officer has said.

The Government is currently consulting on plans to privatise the channel.

However Ian Katz, chief content officer at Channel 4, questioned the logic behind a potential sale.

Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, he said: “Pretty much to a man and woman, it feels like every producer has popped up and said that selling off Channel 4 would be tantamount to an act of self-harm against one of the most successful sectors of the British economy.”

He added that the likely impact of privatisation on the channel’s output “has started to crystallise”.

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Figures including actor Rob Delaney, It’s A Sin writer Russell T Davies, and The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci have voiced opposition to the potential sale of the broadcaster.

Channel 4, which was founded in 1982 to deliver to under-served audiences, is owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the decision to review Channel 4’s ownership structure had been taken because the changing media landscape posed a serious threat to traditional linear broadcasters.

Mr Katz said: “We should make no mistake that a purely profit-driven Channel 4 would be a very different beast to the Channel 4 that we know now, and much that is really special and treasured about Channel 4, I think, would very likely be lost.”

He added that he is “privileged enough to be part of a team” that has “the primary purpose of trying to serve the remit for the greatest number of people possible”.

“And if you move to a profit-driven organisation, that changes,” he said.

“Everyone comes in wanting to maximise profits and inevitably what then happens is the remit, the licence requirements, become an albatross around your neck.”

He added: “What’s really special about the channel would be, I think, destroyed.”

The DCMS has been contacted for comment.

Mr Katz also discussed the financial performance of Channel 4 during the coronavirus crisis.

Views of London – The Channel 4 Television Headquarters,
Channel 4 was founded in 1982 to deliver to under-served audiences (John Walton/PA)

He said the broadcaster had to “really squeeze” its spending on new content at the height of the pandemic last year.

“But the really good news … is that performance was strong, advertising came back really strongly in the back half of last year,” he said.

“And what we’ve been trying to do ever since is to put money back into content investment as quickly as we could.”

He said the broadcaster is now putting £24 million into its content budget for next year.

“That’ll take us up to the highest level of content spend since 2017 – the highest level in five years, which I think is really significant.”

He added: “I think there’s a certain irony to the fact we’re having a debate about the sustainability of Channel 4 at the moment that sees Channel 4 in probably the rudest commercial health it’s been in in a decade.”

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