In responses to the UK’s draft Media Bill, which, when passed, will see Channel 4 given the rights to own its shows for the first time in its 40-year history, the powerhouses urged protections for the dozens of UK producers that use Channel 4 commissions as the bedrock for the growth of their businesses.
Channel 4 in-house was unveiled when privatization plans were reversed earlier this year and is arguably the most controversial element of the new Media Bill, which will also see the streamers regulated for the first time and the introduction of broadcaster prominence rules, amongst other changes.
If Channel 4 in-house is given the go-ahead WBD, which owns several UK indies, called on the government and regulator Ofcom to forge a “creative window of competition that can be retained to ensure the benefits of the current regime.”
“We need to ensure the benefits are not put at risk to the detriment of Channel 4, its viewers and the wider UK audiovisual ecosystem,” added the WBD response.
WBD flagged the success of its own UK indies such as Who Do You Think You Are? producer Wall to Wall and First Dates indie Twenty Twenty, which grew “as a direct result of the unique publisher-broadcaster model operated by Channel 4.”
The U.S. media conglomerate said Channel 4 should be given time to be measured against a new “duty of sustainability” before in-house changes are considered.
Fremantle, which produces the likes of Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor and The Apprentice via its wealth of UK indies, said “any changes to Channel 4’s remit and quotas should be carefully assessed with broad industry consultation to ensure appropriate safeguards for the independent production sector.”
“This should include a detailed impact assessment, following which substantive policy measures should be put in place to mitigate any negative impacts,” added Fremantle’s response.
A separate probe was several weeks ago and has seen the government seek responses from dozens of UK producers on Channel 4 in-house in order to help the production sector be safeguarded. Potential mitigations include Channel 4’s “indie quota” — the proportion of its £700M ($860M) content budget spent with truly independent production companies — be increased from its current level of 25%, along with the introduction of specific quotas for smaller producers.
These mitigations should be set by regulator Ofcom, not the government, according to Channel 4’s Media Bill response, which would “ensure flexibility for the rules to be amended as necessary over time, reflecting changing circumstances.”
Channel 4 used its Media Bill response to stress the government’s previously-made point that Channel 4 in-house will be introduced “gradually with appropriate checks and balances.”
“We want to ensure that the publisher-broadcaster change is implemented in a way that – as far as possible – does not have unintended consequences on the UK production sector, particularly on smaller production companies or those based outside of London,” it added.
Indie trade body Pact, which represents hundreds of UK indies, said regulation should “seek to avoid adverse impacts on competition,” while Ofcom should have the ability to “secure fair and effective competition in the commissioning of [Channel 4] programmes.”
In other evidence to the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, Netflix and Disney raised concerns about plans to regulate streaming services. Netflix threatened to preemptively remove films and TV shows from its UK library to avoid falling foul of impartiality requirements.
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