‘4 The People’: ad industry letter calls for Channel 4 to stay in public ownership

Industry leaders urge ministers to rethink Channel 4 sale plans.

Campaign: has published an open letter on Channel 4's future
Campaign: has published an open letter on Channel 4's future

Leaders from across the UK advertising and media industries have signed a letter organised by Campaign that calls on the government to keep Channel 4 in public ownership and urges ministers to “think again” about its plans to privatise the broadcaster.

The signatories of the “4 The People” letter make the case to Boris Johnson, the prime minister, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, that it would be “short-sighted” of them to sell Channel 4 because it plays a key role in offering diverse programming and ensuring media plurality for viewers and advertisers alike.

Campaign has submitted the letter to the government’s consultation about a potential “change of ownership” – ahead of the closing deadline tonight (14 September).

The letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State, DCMS,

As the consultation into the future of Channel 4 draws to a close, the UK’s £23bn advertising industry wants to make its voice heard.

The needs of advertisers and their agency partners are best served by a plural media landscape.

Channel 4 has a unique position as a publicly owned broadcaster funded by advertising. Freed from the pressures of shareholders or a parent company, it delivers a diverse range of programming that is attractive to a range of audiences and, consequently, brands.

Media consumption is evolving, but TV advertising (whether linear or digital) remains a crucial and efficient tool for businesses looking to grow. At this difficult time for the economy – with the challenges of Covid – it would be short-sighted to undermine this valuable vehicle for commercial creativity.

According to our recent poll, just over half of Campaign’s readers (advertising, marketing and media professionals) are strongly against privatisation (51%), with 17% somewhat against a sale – making more than two-thirds opposed to the plans. Only 13% of the professionals funding Channel 4 were in favour of privatisation.

Channel 4 is a remarkable public-private partnership success story. In 2008, Ofcom warned that Channel 4 faced a £100m annual funding shortfall by 2012. Since then, Channel 4 has diversified its offering, built the UK’s biggest free streaming service and given millions of pounds of airtime to new advertisers. This year, it topped Campaign’s TV Sales Survey and delivered a surplus of £74m in its 2020 annual report – its fifth in the last decade.

It is on track to spend 50% of its content budget – money provided by advertising – in the nations and regions by the end of the year, providing opportunities around the country and contributing to levelling up. 

This weekend, Channel 4 again demonstrated its ability to think differently in bringing the US Open to free-to-air television and allowing 12.6 million Brits to watch Emma Raducanu’s historic victory.

You have both stated the government’s preferred option is to facilitate a change in ownership of Channel 4 but we, the undersigned, ask you to think again. The broadcaster’s current structure allows it to offer advertisers a brilliant platform to build their brands and drive the UK economy. 

Yours sincerely,

David Abraham, founder, Wonderhood Studios 

Patrick Affleck, CEO, Havas Media Group UK & Ireland

Zaid Al-Zaidy, group CEO, The Beyond Collective

Adam Arnold, global chief marketing officer, BBH 

Paul Bainsfair, director general, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

Dani Bassil, CEO, Digitas UK

Trevor Beattie, film-maker and founder, BMB

Steven Bennett-Day, founder, Ourselves

Jenny Biggam, owner, the7stars

Joakim Borgström, worldwide chief creative officer, BBH

Tanya Brookfield, CEO, Elvis London

Danny Brooke-Taylor, founding partner, Lucky Generals

Adam Clarkson, CBO, Trouble Maker

Charles Courtier, chairman, MSQ

Dan Cullen-Shute, founder and CEO, Creature London

Ete Davies, CEO (Creative), Engine Group UK 

Simon Davis, founder and CEO, Walk-In Media

Magnus Djaba, CEO, Publicis Groupe UK Creative Practice, president, Saatchi & Saatchi

Jamie Elliott, CEO, The Gate

Laura Fenton, CEO, OMD UK

Jonathan Fraser, CSO, Trouble Maker

Sue Frogley, chief executive, Publicis Media

Declan Gough, senior business director, Campaign and PR Week

Ben Hayes, co-founder, Goodstuff Communications 

Lord Heseltine

Arvind Hickman, media editor, Campaign

Jeremy Hine, UK CEO, MullenLowe Group

Aaron Howard, founder, Ourselves

Laura Jordan Bambach, president and chief creative officer UK, Grey

Camilla Kemp, CEO, M&C Saatchi 

Annette King, CEO, Publicis Groupe UK

Mark Lund, president, McCann Worldgroup UK and Europe

Katie Mackay-Sinclair, partner, Mother

Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Havas London

Karen Martin, CEO, BBH

Maisie McCabe, UK editor, Campaign

Ben Middleton, chief creative officer, Creature London

Mark Mitchell, founding partner, Lively Worldwide

Richard Morris, chief executive, IPG Mediabrands UK & Ireland

James Murphy, founder and chief executive, New Commercial Arts

Andy Nairn, founding partner, Lucky Generals

Hamish Nicklin, CEO, Dentsu Media UK

Stu Outhwaite-Noel, chief creative officer, Creature London

David Pemsel, CEO and founder, ScienceMagic.Inc

Lord Puttnam, chair, Democracy and Digital Technologies Select Committee, House of Lords

John Quarrey, CEO, Krow

Xavier Rees, CEO, Havas London and Havas CX Helia

Sam Sheterline, COO, ODD London

Phil Smith, director general, ISBA

Andrew Stephens, co-founder, Goodstuff Communications

Mike White, CEO and founding partner, Lively Worldwide 

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