Channel 4 Privatization Decision Could Be Delayed Until Spring; Gov’t Department Responsible Struggling With Work Overload

Channel 4 Privatization Decision Could Be Delayed Until Spring; Gov’t Department Responsible Struggling With Work Overload

EXCLUSIVE: As the BBC dominates the headlines and the future of the licence fee is placed in doubt, another major British public broadcaster Channel 4 looks set to have to wait longer to discover the fate of its own future-defining government decision on privatization.

Deadline understands the publication of the landmark government White Paper into broadcasting, which will include a decision on Channel 4 sale and potentially lead to a Media Bill making its way through parliament, has now been pushed back to the Spring.

If published then, the long-awaited White Paper will have been delayed by around six months, having first been slated for Autumn 2021 and then pushed back until the end of that year.

Two sources with knowledge of the situation indicated the delay to Deadline, which the Culture department did not confirm or deny when contacted for comment.

One of the sources said Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries “doesn’t have the same sort of beef” with the It’s a Sin broadcaster as she does with the BBC, and she has appeared less keen on a sale than her predecessors Oliver Dowden and John Whittingdale, the latter of whom was regularly called the architect of privatization.

Furthermore, the source said Dorries’ department is “overwhelmed” with work on the recent BBC licence fee deal and Online Harms legislation, the latter of which is one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s major reform areas and was described by the source as “insanely complicated.”

The second source described the situation with Channel 4 privatization as “in flux” and concurred that the Culture department “has its arms full” with Online Harms, with thousands of  responses to the initial government consultation into privatization still unread.

“It’s becoming hard to establish that Channel 4 privatization is a priority in itself and it might even be difficult to sustain interest in a Media Bill,” said this person. “But the TV industry is working hard. Everyone has their briefings ready [for any privatization announcement].”

An army of buyers has already been connected with a potential Channel 4 acquisition, including Sky, Discovery, Channel 5-owner Viacom and ITV. The latter, which is already a commercially-owned public broadcaster, may find it difficult to jump through the regulatory hoops required to acquire its main advertising rival, however.

The White Paper will also touch on regulation of the U.S. streamers and include recommendations on legislation surrounding prominence for UK broadcasters, which would see Broadcaster VoD players such as BBC iPlayer and All4 having to feature more prominently by law on the likes of smart TVs and set-top boxes.

Reports have suggested that the government will give broadcasters what they want on prominence in exchange for privatization.

The broadcasters have been campaigning on prominence for many years now and those keen to see legislation passed in parliament had hoped this would happen later this year, but the White Paper delay could deem this impossible.

The news comes in a landmark week for the BBC, with Dorries shocking the broadcasting world on Sunday by tweeting her decision to freeze the licence fee for two years and scrap it altogether in five.

She rowed back slightly in parliament yesterday but confirmed the licence fee freeze, which looks set to lose the BBC around £1.5BN ($2BN) over the next five years.