LONDON — Terence Burns, the chairman of U.K. state-owned broadcaster Channel 4, is to step down in January. His departure may clear the way for the sale of the network to a Hollywood major or another global media conglom.
Burns’ second term as chairman is due to end on Jan. 27, but media regulator Ofcom, which appoints the role, had requested a year’s extension to his contract. It emerged late Monday that the government has rejected that request.
The government is considering three options for the future ownership status of Channel 4: the first is to keep the present structure in place – the broadcaster is government owned but funded by advertising; the second is to sell the network to the highest bidder, which would probably be a Hollywood major or another global media conglom; and the third is to make Channel 4 a not-for-profit mutually-owned trust, which would guarantee its editorial independence.
Burns has backed the third option and his departure could herald the death of this mutualization plan. Privatization is the most likely outcome for two reasons: first, it chimes with the free-market ideology of the ruling right-wing Conservative Party, and, second, it would contribute around £1 billion ($1.52 billion) to the national coffers at a time when the government is trying to cut the U.K. debt.
At present, the broadcaster has a remit to be “innovative, experimental and distinctive.” Whether that would survive privatization is in doubt, although the government has suggested it could remain.
Channel 4 does not produce its own programs — all of its output is either acquired from the international market or commissioned from U.K. independent production companies. Channel 4 is an avid buyer of Hollywood shows, such as “Scream Queens,” “Homeland,” “Nashville,” “New Girl,” “The Mindy Project” and “Fargo.”