Privatisation will secure UK Channel 4's future, minister to say

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Channel 4, Britain’s publicly owned but commercially funded broadcaster, will be able to access more money to compete with streaming giants Amazon and Netflix under private ownership, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will say on Wednesday.

Britain's government said in June here it was planning to sell the broadcaster, launched nearly 39 years ago as an edgy alternative to the BBC and ITV. A consultation closed on Tuesday.

Channel 4 has criticised the move. Its chairman told the Guardian in July the government “was in danger of sleepwalking into irreversible and risky sale of an important, successful and much-loved British institution”.

Dowden, however, will say on Wednesday he is concerned about its long-term future.

“And I believe that if Channel 4 wants to grow then at some point soon it will need cash,” he will tell the Royal Television Society Convention, according to excerpts of his speech.

“Without it, Channel 4 won’t have the money to invest in technology and programming, and it won’t be able to compete with the streaming giants.”

Channel 4, which broadcast the AIDs drama “It’s a Sin” this year, has a remit to provide challenging and distinctive programming for audiences under-served by other broadcasters.

Rather than making programmes, it commissions them from production companies, helping sustain Britain’s successful independent TV sector.

Channel 4 said this month that research by Ernst & Young showed that removing its unique publisher-broadcaster model could result in a 2 billion pound ($2.76 billion) reduction in its contribution to the creative economy over 10 years.

Dowden will say Channel 4’s public service remit will not be watered down.

“So if we do choose to proceed with a sale, I will make sure it remains subject to proper public service obligations,” he will say, adding that this would cover a commitment to commissioning programming from independents. ($1 = 0.7243 pound) (Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)