Easyjet’s deputy chairman Charles Gurassa has been appointed chairman of Channel 4, ahead of the possible privatization of the UK public broadcaster. Gurassa beat out other rumored candidates such as Mark Price, the former managing director of upmarket grocery chain Waitrose, and Simon Bax, chairman of publishing group Archant.
Gurassa has previously been chairman at phone operator Virgin Mobile, DVD rental service LoveFilm (now owned by and called Amazon) and TV distributor Parthenon. All three of those companies were sold during his tenure. Outgoing Channel 4 chairman Lord Burns announced last October he would be stepping down at the end of his second term in January after ministers rejected his proposal to oversee the transformation of the broadcaster into a mutually owned not-for-profit channel. The move appeared to suggest that ministers could be in favor of privatizing Channel 4 completely — a move which would generate a much-needed financial windfall for the company but also sure to unleash a backlash. Channel 4 has long been a champion of diverse, edgy programming and any move to privatize would lead to fears of commercialization and homogenization.
Burns had been in favor of mutualization, by which Channel 4 would have been removed from public ownership without being sold to the highest bidder plans. Other options include privatizing Channel 4 fully or keeping the hybrid structure as is with the channel a state-owned broadcaster but funded almost entirely by advertising. Gurassa is believed to be more naturally open to the idea of a privatised Channel 4.
Channel 4 has been valued at potentially up to $1.5 billion if fully privatized. Channel 5, for example, which has a smaller viewership and infrastructure that Channel 4, was sold for £463 million ($663 million) to Viacom in 2014.
Mutualization is believed to be the favored option by Channel 4 execs, owned essentially by joint shareholders such as production companies and even members of the public, and keeping its public broadcaster remit. Such a structure would be unique in the UK landscape. Channel 4’s film arm, Film4, is one of the most vibrant and important sources of film investment, developing the likes of Slumdog Millionaire, Room and Carol.