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Channel 4 is a publicly owned, non-profit organisation that invests its income back into commissioning content. It receives no public money and is funded entirely through its commercial activity. Most of its income comes from TV and online advertising.

On 6 July 2021, the Government launched a consultation on a potential change of ownership of Channel 4. In a Written Ministerial Statement, Oliver Dowden, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, gave this context:

Since its creation almost 40 years ago by a Conservative Government, Channel 4 has delivered on its remit, aims and objectives. But, in that time, the broadcasting landscape has changed beyond recognition, and continues to change apace.

Increased global competition, changing audience habits, the decline of linear advertising revenue and a wave of consolidation in the sector all pose challenges.

The consultation therefore asks for views and evidence on what ownership model and remit will best support Channel 4 to thrive for another 40 years and beyond.

The Government’s preferred option is for a change to private ownership. According to the Government, this would give Channel 4 “greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities, allowing it to compete effectively in a more agile fashion and ensuring it has the best chance of a successful and sustainable future”.

The consultation, which closed on 14 September 2021, sought respondents’ views on:

  • whether they agree that there are challenges in the current TV broadcasting market that present barriers to a sustainable Channel 4 in public ownership.
  • whether a continued Channel 4, with a continued public service broadcasting licence and remit, would be better placed to deliver sustainably against the government’s aims for public service broadcasting if it was outside public ownership.
  • what the economic, social and cultural costs and benefits might be to moving Channel 4 out of public ownership.

The consultation is part of the Government’s wider review of public service broadcasting, alongside Ofcom’s own review. The DCMS intends to publish a Broadcasting White Paper in autumn 2021.

This Library Paper gives background to the consultation and a selection of comment.

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