Dowden defends Channel 4’s sell-off amid criticism from advertisers

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The UK’s culture minister will come to terms with critics of the government’s plans to privatize Channel 4 after top advertising executives urged the prime minister to reconsider plans to overhaul the channel’s ownership model.

In his first public statement since a consultation began on the broadcaster’s change of ownership, Oliver Dowden will argue on Wednesday that “a grandma in Stockport or Southend” shouldn’t make any investments necessary to compete with Netflix.

Dowden’s speech at the Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge will come after advertisers stepped up their stakes in their campaign against the privatization of Channel 4, arguing ahead of the minister’s speech that the UK government had failed to bring the case.

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers said in its submission to the government consultation that concluded Tuesday evening that it was a “significant concern” that the channel could be sold to another UK broadcaster such as ITV or Sky. It added that such a move would reduce competition.

Isba also said there was “a significant risk” that Channel 4’s programming, which appeal to a young and diverse audience, would become “watered down and challenged” over time in the private sector.

In his speech, Dowden will argue that without additional money, Channel 4 “will not be able to compete with the streaming giants” and funding could be “either at the taxpayer’s back or from private investment”.

“I don’t think a grandma in Stockport or Southend should take over the loan of a commercial television station.”

Executives across the UK advertising sector have signed a letter to Dowden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson arguing that a sell-off would be “short-sighted”.

“We ask you to think again,” reads the letter, which was signed by senior executives from advertising groups Publicis, Havas and M&C Saatchi. “The station’s current structure allows it to provide advertisers with a brilliant platform to build their brands and drive the UK economy.”

Phil Smith, general manager at Isba, which includes Asda, Barclays, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, said: “These concerns are not niche issues for advertisers, they are widespread. We sincerely hope that the ministers will listen. “

In response to the consultation, Channel 4 said it had concluded that there was “no evidence” that the privatization would “benefit either the UK audience or the UK economy”, adding that it would “benefit them” in fact “could cause harm”.

Channel 4 said it is in a strong financial position, forecasting revenue this year to be 13 percent above pre-2019 pandemic levels and to exceed $ 1 billion for the first time in its history.

The broadcaster acknowledged that traditional television viewership was declining, but argued that it is “addressing these challenges more effectively than our competitors”.

In his speech, Dowden will recognize that “Channel 4 is in a stable position right now,” but will add, “I think too many people are fixated on Channel 4’s current situation. I am much more concerned with its long-term future. “

Dowden will also endeavor to reassure television industry dignitaries that in the event of a privatization, Channel 4 will maintain its public service obligations, including its commitment to news and current affairs and the use of independent producers. It should remain “representative of the entire nation,” he will say.

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