Merging Channel 4 with ITV is an “interesting” possibility, according to the media minister.
The Government has launched a consultation into the privatisation of Channel 4 amid concerns over its ability to compete with streaming giants, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Conservative MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, suggested options could include a merger with ITV or BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the BBC.
Minister John Whittingdale said the Government “maintains a completely open mind” about the future of the broadcaster but did note his party colleague had raised a “number of interesting possibilities”.
We maintain a completely open mindJohn Whittingdale
Full-frontal nudity dating show Naked Attraction also received a mention as the issue was considered in the Commons.
Channel 4 was founded in 1982 to deliver to under-served audiences.
It is owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising, but could be sold off to a private buyer, with potential investors likely to include big American companies.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Knight said he was expressing his personal view before noting: “The recovery of Channel 4 and the evolving media landscape warrants close consideration of privatisation and sale.”
He added: “Would the minister agree with me that it would be a good juncture to also consider whether Channel 4 could be bolstered by a potential merger with ITV or even hive off BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the BBC, which has often underperformed but has tremendous international potential to build scale for Channel 4?”
Mr Whittingdale, in his reply, said: “We have reached no conclusion as to what is the appropriate future ownership model for Channel 4.
“We maintain a completely open mind but he raises a number of interesting possibilities and we are looking forward to seeing what submissions we receive as part of the consultation.”
Mr Whittingdale later namechecked the daring dating series Naked Attraction after his Labour counterpart Chris Matheson reeled off a list of shows in defence of the broadcaster.
Mr Matheson said: “Countdown, Derry Girls, Gogglebox, The Word, It’s A Sin, Chewing Gum – which gave us the astonishing Michaela Coel for the first time – Educating Yorkshire, 24 Hours In A&E and Police Custody, Location, Location, Location, Phil and Kirstie, Friday Night Dinner…”
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle intervened to speed up Mr Matheson, who added: “I’ll simply finish with Hollyoaks and the Secret Life Of The Zoo, which you have something in common with me – they’re both filmed in Chester, Mr Speaker.
“For four decades, Channel 4 has reflected and given voice to the diverse parts of the United Kingdom. Why does the Government want to take that voice away and sell it off to foreign tech companies that have no loyalty to the United Kingdom?”
Mr Whittingdale replied: “I am extremely impressed by his viewing habits although I noticed he left out Naked Attraction, which certainly does appeal to diverse tastes. However, I absolutely agree that Channel 4 has been responsible for some great programmes over the years and it is our intention that it should be able to continue to do that in the coming years.”
The minister also said Channel 4 is going to need “access to investment capital in order to maintain” its record on broadcasting.