Another billion reasons not to flog off Channel 4

The UK government is, in many, ways quite a diverting comedy: Partygate, tractorgate (watching porn in Parliament), bloodcurdling noises from a nakedly ambitious foreign secretary over Ukraine, echoed by a PM who seems to think poking the Russian bear is a good distraction from problems at home.

But some of these things (not least the latter) may actually damage the country and we’ll stop seeing the joke.

The Government’s decision to press ahead with privatising Channel 4 is one such, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (another politician you’d never expect to see anywhere near a Cabinet table) is going ahead with the barmy and vindictive scheme, despite 96% of respondents to the Government’s pretend ‘consultation’ being agin it.

It may never happen, of course, as it gets bogged down in Parliament and, very likely, legal challenges. C4 has added fuel to the fire by reporting record ad revenues of £1.2bn in 2021, with a financial surplus of £101m – record-breaking figures. If it ain’t broke…

It is also promising to invest tens of millions in jobs outside London and seek private investment of up to £1bn to do, what exactly? Not clear at this stage but it presumably involves the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, that is more fancy jobs outside London.

Dorries, who other government ministers steer well clear of, says she want to equip C4 for the “streaming age,” seemingly overlooking that the US streamers are losing fistuls of money. It’s near certainty that there’ll be a spate in mergers in streaming as shareholders say enough is enough. The notion that C4 or, indeed, ITV, can compete in this shark-infested space at the same level is fanciful in the extreme.

C4’s capable boss Alex Mahon does have work to do. Its programmes aren’t great, by the standards of its past anyway. Great British Bake Off was pinched from the BBC, Gogglebox is fine if that’s your thing but there has to a bit more to it than those two.

But C4 is a part of the UK media landscape that definitely should have a preservation order on it – mostly as it is.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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