A group of 44 TV and film production companies from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire has taken out a full-page ad in the Daily Telegraph today (5 October) to warn that the planned privatisation of Channel 4 could drive them out of business.
It coincides with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, which finishes tomorrow, and the choice of the right-wing broadsheet newspaper is likely to be an attempt to reach senior Tories.
“Privatising Channel 4 would be the opposite of levelling up,” the ad reads, referring to the phrase used by Boris Johnson’s government to describe efforts to rebalance the UK economy away from London.
“It would cost jobs, reduce investment, and place companies at risk in the nations and regions,” the ad continues. “From production companies who should know.”
The privatisation of Channel 4, which is currently publicly owned but funded through advertising revenue, has been broadly opposed by industry leaders and publications from both the commercial and programming sides of the ecosystem.
Last month, ad industry leaders put their names to “4 The People”, an open letter initiated by Campaign, which argued that “it would be short-sighted to undermine this valuable vehicle for commercial creativity”.
Earlier in the summer, Broadcast, a trade title for the TV industry, launched its own campaign against privatisation, “Not 4 Sale”.
Today’s ad is backed by companies including Hat Trick, which is behind Derry Girls, and True North, which created Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire.
Critics of privatisation fear that without Channel 4’s distinct model, in which all profits are reinvested in programming, it would spend less on distinct output that aims to broaden representation and reach underserved audiences. This, it is argued, could damage both the production companies that produce this content and advertisers, who have limited opportunities to reach those audiences elsewhere.
Last month, the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden, since replaced by Nadine Dorries, promised that a privatised Channel 4 would still be required to maintain a commitment to regional output and commissioning shows from independent producers. But a report at the same time by Ampere Analysis found that about 60 production companies could go out of business if the plans go ahead.