ITV and former Channel 4 CEO Michael Grade, CBE are among the interested parties bringing on advisors to consider a bid to purchase the UK pubcaster, according to a report from British daily newspaper The Times.
The report says that the UK commercial broadcaster has brought on Credit Suisse and Robey Warshaw LLP as advisors regarding a potential Channel 4 acquisition, and that Grade, chairman of the board for UK-headquartered media and marketing firm Miroma, is consulting with bank officials from Rothschild & Co.
Grade served as CEO for Channel 4 from 1988 to 1997. His career in television has also included stints as BBC1 controller, chairman of the BBC and executive chairman of ITV.
Earlier this month, Grade took part in a House of Lords committee inquiry regarding the potential privatization of the pubcaster, saying that while “Channel 4 started as the only buyer of independent production and it was the mother and father of the independent sector, which is one of the great success stories of the British creative industry,” keeping things at “status quo is not an option.”
Other names that have emerged in the speculation surrounding a possible C4 sale include Sky, ViacomCBS and, according to a report in The Telegraph from July, Discovery Inc. That report also cited ITV as a potential suitor.
Both ViacomCBS and Discovery Inc. were put forward as potential buyers in a report commissioned by the Channel 4 board in 2016 — the last time privatization was put on the table by then-culture secretary John Whittingdale. But since then, Discovery Inc. has entered into a merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia.
The UK government began consultations into a change of ownership for Channel 4 in July, stating at the time: “The government’s preferred option is to facilitate a change of ownership of Channel 4, which it believes will give it greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities, allowing it to compete effectively in a more agile fashion and ensuring it has the best chance of a successful and sustainable future.”
Opposition to privatization has come from many quarters, including BBC chief content officer Charlotte Moore, who weighed in on the topic during an interview at the Edinburgh Television Festival: “It’s in the interest of every British creative to want public service broadcasting to continue, and for there to be really great competition in that market as well. Competition for all of us is really, really important, and creatively it only leads to better work. I’m a real supporter of what Channel 4′s programming has been for years. They’re absolutely critical. It’s not for me to talk about whether privatization would change the content that they make, but I absolutely want to make sure that we have a really strong PSB ecology in this country… the BBC can’t do it all.”
C4 chief executive Alex Mahon and chief content officer Ian Katz have also come out swinging against the idea, with Mahon saying during the opening of Channel 4′s newly appointed headquarters in Leeds: “We have not seen any evidence that the irreversible change of privatizing Channel 4 would be in the interest of either British audiences or the UK’s economy.”
From a content perspective, Katz also sounded an alarm at that event: “The programming that makes Channel 4 so unique might, I fear, be lost,” he said. “To create profitable returns, we would need to radically reshape our editorial mix. Without doubt, this would result in less risk-taking, fewer programs with real societal impact, and fewer opportunities.”