Channel 4 chairman Lord Burns will step down in January at the end of his second term after ministers rejected his proposal to oversee the transformation of the broadcaster into a mutually owned not-for-profit channel. The move appears 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.
Media regulator Ofcom had initially suggested Lord Burns stay on for an additional interim year post the expiration of his term on January 27 to help oversee the change in the channel’s structure. Burns was 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.
Channel 4 has been valued at up to $1.5 billion if fully privatized. It would be an attractive acquisition target for a larger media group looking for a foothold in the UK market. By way of example, Channel 5 was bought by Viacom for less than $700 million 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. 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.