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The U.K. government said it will look at regulating streaming services and privatizing free-to-air public service TV network Channel 4 via a sale.
U.K. culture secretary Oliver Dowden, in a Wednesday statement, confirmed “plans to consult on sale of Channel 4 to ensure its future success and sustainability.” The statement added: “As part of an ongoing strategic review of the U.K. public service broadcasting system, the government will review the ownership model and remit of Channel 4 and consider tightening regulation of video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.”
In a review, the government will assess “whether the regulation of video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime need strengthening so they are subject to similar rules as traditional ‘linear’ broadcasters, such as the BBC, ITV and Sky.”
It will consider whether “new rules are needed to protect viewers of video-on-demand services – such as changes to age ratings and addressing impartiality and accuracy rules for documentaries and news content” alongside “measures to level the playing field so public service broadcasters can compete with international rivals.”
Said the government: “This will help ensure the country has a diverse, free and pluralistic broadcasting landscape with high standards.” And Dowden emphasized: “Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analog age.”
On Channel 4, the minister said: “We’ll now be looking at how we can help make sure Channel 4 keeps its place at the heart of British broadcasting and level the playing field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services.”
An outright sale of the public broadcaster or part of the government’s stake had been considered before, but the increased global competition from deep-pocketed technology and entertainment giants in the streaming age seems to have now accelerated the plan.
Channel 4, whose hit shows include The Great British Bake Off, has been under a public ownership structure since 1982. It is largely commercially self-funded, but is ultimately publicly owned and operated by Channel Four Television Corporation, a corporation of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
In 2016, a planned sale was predicted to raise as much as £1 billion, but was then called off. For 2019, Channel 4 had reported a pre-tax loss of £26 million on revenue of £985 million. The sale process will be overseen by media minister John Whittingdale who has spoken out in favor of a privatization of Channel 4 since the 1990s.
Channel 4 has since 2017 been overseen by CEO Alex Mahon, the former CEO of Shine Group and CEO of VFX software company Foundry. Part of the broadcaster’s businesses is movie production arm Film4, led by Daniel Battsek. Its releases have included the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite and Fighting With My Family from writer/director Stephen Merchant.
In 2014, what was then Viacom acquired U.K. public service broadcaster Channel 5 for $725 million.
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