Countdown may already have begun over sale of Channel 4

Linda J. Dodson

Channel 4 has been holding its own. Sales at the not-for-profit broadcaster were up 2pc to £975m in 2018. The rise was partly driven by digital advertising, which rose by 11pc to £138m and accounts for 14pc of total revenues.

A Channel 4 source said digital advertising sales from its All 4 on-demand service and platform fees would show “significant growth” when it announces 2019 results. Yet that still paints a picture of the TV industry before the pandemic. Channel 4’s finances have been ravaged.

With the TV advertising market down 50pc over April and May, the broadcaster slashed its production budget by £150m, pinpointed £95m worth of savings and drew down a £75m revolving credit facility.

Since then, the picture has brightened. Enders Analysis predicts total TV advertising will fall between 15pc and 25pc at the end of the year, while Channel 4 is understood to have grown its linear TV and All 4 audiences by 2pc and 27pc respectively.

Tense relations

That has not been enough to keep ministers at bay. Mahon has been trying to repair relations with the Government after Dorothy Byrne, the broadcaster’s head of news, called the Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “known liar” for declining interviews in August last year.

It also irked Downing Street when the channel replaced Johnson with a melting ice sculpture after he failed to show up for a climate-change debate in November. Tensions had eased until Whittingdale posed fresh questions about the broadcaster’s future.

It revived a debate former Channel 4 boss David Abraham put to bed four years ago when Whittingdale led attempts to sell the broadcaster, before the Government put the brakes on.

Public service

Government sources have now told The Sunday Telegraph that ministers are drawing up plans for a further investigation into public service broadcasting to build on a review by the communications regulator Ofcom.

Alongside investigating whether to sell a stake in Channel 4, it will also assess the public service obligations of commercial broadcasters. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are handed benefits, including the top positions on the digital channel guides, in exchange for funding TV news and making programmes outside of London.

The likes of pay-TV giant Sky has argued that broadcasters beyond the remit are still funding “public service content”, but are getting none of the perks in return.

They have called for ITV and Channel 5’s public service licences to be removed and the framework to be opened up to all broadcasters through “cross-sector policies”, such as the contestable fund for the production of children’s programming.

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