Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Lord Grade backs C4 privatisation

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast December 07, 2015

Lord Grade has come out in favour of selling off Channel 4 - arguing that it could be built into a media powerhouse if freed from government control.

The former C4 chief executive said he disagreed with current boss David Abraham when he that privatising the broadcaster would create “just another Channel 5”.

“That argument flies in the face of commercial logic,” Lord Grade said at a Broadcasting Press Guild event at Pinewood Studios today.

“I’ve had that conversation with David Abraham. I don’t think it’s a good enough answer.”

Grade, who was C4’s boss for a decade until 1997 and campaigned against a sell-off, added: “If you privatise it, you could build a very big media business around the brand.”

He believes that the government could set limits in the privatisation process that would protect certain key elements that make the brand distinctive, like Channel 4 News.

“In an age when so many channels are fighting to be distinctive C4 has that in spades,” said Grade. “The government would have to decide what outcomes they wanted but that is all manageable in the process.”

Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham said: “I have huge respect for Michael but he ran Channel 4 20 years ago, in an analogue era.

“Channel 4 is now a large multi-media digital business delivering record revenue and investment in British programmes as well as widespread public service delivery via a range of innovative commercial and creative partnerships – all at no cost to the taxpayer. I’m proud of the important contribution Channel 4 makes to the creative economy and invite Michael to debate this directly with me on a public platform.”

BBC ‘pushing & shoving’

Lord Grade, who is also the former chairman of the BBC, said the corporation is in a “good place politically” currently but admitted that there is still “some pushing and shoving” on the length of its next charter.

“The longer [the charter deal], the better for the independence of the BBC is my view,” he said.

But he reiterated his criticism of The Voice as a derivative programme. “The Voice is totemic as the lack of a willingness to take risks,” he argued.

He cited both Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bakeoff as “perfect BBC shows” that did take creative risks.

Pinewood financing?

Separately, Pinewood Studios, where Grade is chairman, is moving into equity and deficit financing for both film and TV projects. One of its first projects is Amazon’s The Collection, which is being produced by Lookout Point.

“We think that this kind of deficit financing is a natural extension of our business,” said Grade.

Pinewood is managing £55mn of funds from the Isle of Man Media Development Fund and the Welsh government’s Media Investment Budget, as well as its own Pinewood Group Equity Investment Budget. “We’re looking to do deals that producers bring to us. We are more of a bank than anything else.”

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