Media Future of TV

Bidders line up to wrest control of Channel 4

By John Glenday | Reporter

April 7, 2022 | 4 min read

A who’s who of media giants could spark a bidding war to wrest control of Channel 4, with the British government openly touting the prospect of putting the public service broadcaster up for sale.

Channel 4

Privatization goes against the wishes of Channel 4 bosses

UK-based Sky and ITV will go head-to-head with American rivals Discovery and Paramount to take over the network, sparking speculation that the government could earn a £1bn-plus payday.

Privatization goes against the wishes of Channel 4 bosses, who argue that the cut-throat nature of commercial broadcasting will inevitably hit its public service output. Undaunted ministers believe the network can still meet minimum obligations in areas such as prime-time news while slashing budgets.

While any changes would have to be cleared by Ofcom, the story of Paramount-owned Channel 5, which meets its broadcast obligations on an annual content budget of just £240m, suggests that the far larger £660m budget of Channel 4 provides some wriggle room.

As Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster, ITV is regarded as a front runner to wrest control of the remote from the government’s clutches, with significant synergies likely to result in brutal cost-cutting of offices and staff.

Another candidate is pay-TV provider Sky, which has increasingly been targeting public sector broadcasting, as exemplified by its free-to-air Sky Arts service – although whether that pull is sufficient following its acquisition by Comcast remains unclear.

Across the pond, Discovery has been a recurring name in conversations around potential suitors, with the documentary brand often cited as the most likely purchaser as it seeks to curtail reliance on pay-TV in favor of free-to-air broadcasts.

Paramount may also be tempted to throw its hat into the ring and complete its set of British free-to-air channels, although this could be as much through a desire to prevent it from falling into the hands of a rival as any genuine zeal to reinvigorate the broadcaster.

None of the parties named have commented publicly on the purchase, but with a profit margin of 8% – half that of commercial rivals – there is certainly sufficient meat on the bone to spark a feeding frenzy if and when a sale is put into motion.

Talk of a putative sale has already sparked a bout of hand-wringing from advertisers, many of whom are concerned at the potential to undermine the network’s famed outreach to diverse audiences.

Media Future of TV

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Channel 4

Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster that began transmission on 2 November 1982. 

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