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Channel 4 Bosses Warn U.S. Conglomerates Could Buy ‘Bake Off’ Broadcaster if Privatization Goes Ahead

Great British Bake Off
Courtesy of Love Productions

Channel 4 bosses on Tuesday came out swinging against a U.K. government bid to privatize the “Greate British Bake Off” broadcaster.

The cloud of privatization — which would significantly alter the remit of Channel 4, a publicly owned not-for-profit corporation — has been hanging over the org in recent years, and was put in sharp relief Tuesday, despite the broadcaster unveiling record audiences and revenues in its annual report for 2020.

Speaking to a U.K. House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon addressed the threat facing the broadcaster, especially as committee member John Nicolson announced with some certainty that U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden would announce a consultation into privatization as early as Wednesday.

“What we need from this consultation, should it occur, is certainty that the right questions are being asked about the future of public service broadcasting in Britain,” declared Mahon. “We would need to be questioning whether what the British people get from giving up their ownership of Channel 4 is more compared to what they stand to lose.”

The chief executive, who took the reins of Channel 4 in 2017, said the broadcaster has contributed over £12 billion in the course of its 38-year history, and that consideration must be taken into whether this is ultimately “greater than something that might be gained from a one-time disposal.”

“And then is the remit and what we deliver both in terms of the creative economy, but particularly speaking up for the unheard and particularly appealing to diverse audiences and particularly young people and doing that across U.K., is that an important benefit to U.K. society?” continued Mahon.

“And I think it’s those questions: what do you want to change? What do we do that’s no longer needed? How are we ensuring that the landscape is being made better and not worsening, that we would all want to ask during any consultation.”

Mahon added that if elements of Channel 4’s cultural remit were lost, there could be “possibly irreversible damage” done to the U.K. broadcasting landscape and creative sector, and that priorities could change with privatization.

Channel 4 chair Charles Gurassa also talked up the broadcaster’s contribution to the U.K. fabric over the last 30 years and focused on Film 4, which brought home two Oscars this year for “The Father.”

When asked by the committee about potential buyers for the broadcaster, if privatized, Gurassa said it would almost certainly be American conglomerates who would use the Channel 4 portfolio of channels for their products.

“We’ve seen Amazon buy MGM recently and buy James Bond,” Mahon said. “What’s the purpose of that consolidation? The purpose of that consolidation is to sell us all more toilet roll — to get James Bond to do that so that we get sold more of that guff that we buy from Amazon and get delivered to our homes. That’s a different purpose.”

Mahon and Gurassa addressed the government the same day that Channel 4 revealed revenues forecasted to exceed £1 billion ($1.38 billion) in 2021 and a record financial surplus of £74 million at the year end.

The outfit’s ambitious plans to go digital, revealed in 2020, is well on track with streaming growth of 26% in 2020 and digital revenue growth of 11%. In 2020, digital advertising made up 17% of Channel 4’s total revenues, up from 15% in 2019.

Linear views were also up 3%. These numbers enabled a £40 million boost to the content budget across 2021 and 2022. Audience favorites on the service include “The Great British Bake Off,” “Gogglebox,” “Taskmaster” and “The Last Leg.”

Channel 4 also confirmed that it is on track to spend 50% of its original U.K. content spend with producers across the country in 2021, two years ahead of the original 2023 target.