Bidders line up to wrest control of Channel 4
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.
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.
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Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster that began transmission on 2 November 1982.Find out more