U.K. to create distribution giant

Government eyes C4, BBCW linkup

The U.K. government is leaning heavily towards the creation of a British TV distribution giant from a tie-up between the two pubcasters, Channel 4 and the BBC, via its commercial arm BBC Worldwide.

Its long-awaited Digital Britain report, published Thursday, favors creating a “public service content company” with access to rights and global markets.

The org, outlined last week by media regulator Ofcom, would contain an even more commercially focused BBC Worldwide, operating perhaps as the British Rights Co., alongside a revitalized C4.

Broadcasting minister Stephen Carter — who masterminded the plan — warned that the creation of such an entity would require “a lot of heavy lifting,” but could fulfill public purposes more effectively than the existing C4 and boost the commercial clout of U.K. content creators.

“It would be a body with public service at its heart, but one which is able to develop flexible and innovative partnerships with the wider private and public sector,” the report outlined.

Cash-strapped C4, which, unlike the BBC, is financed by advertising, would be the broadcast licensee within the entity, concentrating on news, current affairs, docs and film, the report added.

“For the public, the viewing experience would be the same or better than today, but as a sustainable part of a wider whole, operating successfully across the whole range of digital devices and platforms,” Carter said.

However, Carter added that the government also will consider other partnership options before publishing a blueprint for C4’s future in June.

Digital Britain does not mention the proposed merger between C4 and Five favored by Five’s owner, pan-European broadcast group RTL, and BBC director-general Mark Thompson.

In a question and answer session, Carter said it was not the job of government to comment on private companies like Five. “We have not ruled out declarations of interest from other players,” he said.

C4 topper Andy Duncan praised the “far-sighted” report.

He said: “It strongly reinforces the need for plurality and that a greatly valued Channel 4 should be at the heart of a vital second force in public service broadcasting,

“We’re delighted our preference for partnership with BBC Worldwide is again identified as the most sensible starting point.

“We’re in active discussions with Worldwide and there is real desire and momentum to deliver a material partnership, which we believe can deliver the greatest cultural and economic benefit for Britain.”

Carter said he hoped that in five years an all-digital Britain would be as powerful a force in the U.K. economy as the financial services sector had been during the past 10-15 years.

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