‘Traitors’ producer Stephen Lambert & Banijay UK chief Holland on C4 in-house proposals

The Traitors producer Stephen Lambert has said he “wouldn’t have a problem” with in-house production at UK broadcaster Channel 4 (C4) and has joined industry leaders including Banijay UK chief Patrick Holland and Fulwell 73’s MD Leo Pearlman in welcoming the decision to scrap plans to privatise the broadcaster.

The news to abandon the sale was revealed yesterday in a leaked letter from culture secretary Michelle Donelan, in which she detailed plans “to relax the publisher-broadcaster restriction, giving C4 the flexibility to make some of its own content and diversify its revenue more effectively.”

In-house proposals

That prompted some industry insiders to question the potential effect on the UK indie sector, but the Studio Lambert chief told the BBC’s Media Show that he would not be against C4 producing some of its own programming.

Any relaxation of Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster status will be a blow to the sector

John McVay, Pact CEO

“[I wouldn’t be against it] if the shows are commissioned via a system that hasn’t been told that they must take those programmes.

“The BBC, ITV and many broadcasters buy shows and sometimes have the choice between choosing between in-house – for example BBC Studios, in the case of the BBC – or an independent, and the people that make those decisions are completely free to choose between the two of them.

“So long as Channel 4 is operating on that basis, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It would only be if Channel 4 were told they had to buy these programmes – it is always a mistake when you have in-house production being dictated to the people who buy the shows.”

Banijay’s Holland, who oversees prodcos behind C4 shows such as Hunted and Location, Location, Location, said he welcomed the “change of tack” on privatisation but said efforts had to be made to ensure the UK indie sector remains protected.

The Traitors

“A publicly owned Channel 4, committed to commissioning ideas from the UK independent sector, whether from large groups like Banijay or from tiny start-ups, is vital for the on-going health of the entire production community,” he told TBI.

“The UK has a precious and unique eco-system where producer retention of IP, risk taking by public service broadcasters (PSBs) and the diversity of the production base all play central roles.”

John McVay, CEO of producer trade body Pact, hit out at the potential of in-house production, adding that he was “disappointed” with the proposal to relax C4’s publisher-broadcaster status.

“Our main opposition to privatisation was the proposals around in-house production. Any relaxation of Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster status will be a blow to the sector, who are already facing increased production and business related costs,” he said.

John McVay

“We have made clear the impact in-house production will have on indies across the UK and the wider creative economy. However, Pact is encouraged that the government is committed to working with the indie sector to ensure the changes to the publisher-broadcaster status do not adversely impact the sector.”

‘Damaging outcome’

Pact chair Jane Muirhead added: “Whilst it is clearly the right decision by the government to reverse the privatisation of Channel 4, the decision to allow Channel 4 to produce its own in-house programming has the potential to achieve the same damaging outcome if there are not effective protections put in place.

“Pact will be meeting with government and working closely with them to ensure that the right safeguards are established to protect the UK’s successful world-class indie sector.”

Pearlman, whose Fulwell 73 prodco was behind shows such as Pants On Fire for C4 sibling E4, said the plan to ditch privatisation was “the right decision” but also pointed to the importance of protecting the indie sector.

“There is no doubt that public service broadcasters are at the heart of what makes Britain’s content output both so unique and great. Independent production companies must be protected at all costs, young talent, in particular from the regions must be given every chance to grow and new voices from all sectors of society must be encouraged and supported.

Hunted (UK)

“The BBC and Channel 4 sit at the very heart of this strategy and must remain so if the UK is to retain its place as a global creative leader. Finding solutions to these challenges within the current structures is the right decision and so thank goodness common sense has prevailed.”

Mike Ellen, creative director of Freedom Scripted Entertainment – which is backed by C4’s Indie Growth Fund – added that he welcome protection of “the newest, smallest and most innovative indies, to increase the independent production quota and the move of roles to outside of London.

“As an Indie Growth Fund invested indie meeting all those criteria, we’d love to be part of the conversation over what ‘in-house’ production might look and feel like for C4.”

‘Sustainable direction’

Alex Mahon, C4 CEO, said that the decision against privatisation, which was formally confirmed by the UK government on Thursday, would allow her organisation to be “even more of a power in the digital world.”

She added: “Channel 4 is innovative, editorially brilliant and loved by audiences that others don’t reach, most of all the young and underrepresented. In the analogue world, we did this spectacularly. Now, in the digital era, we are doing it again. Working with the world-leading TV and film producers of the UK, we continue to give birth to ideas that thrill audiences and change perspectives globally.”

Alex Mahon

Mahon, the former CEO of Shine TV, added that C4 would now “move faster, invest more, take more risks, break down barriers and push boundaries,” while the broadcaster said the decision “provides a firm basis on which to establish the sustainable direction of Channel 4, safely in the hands of the British people.”

In a statement, C4 acknowledged proposals to remove the publisher-broadcaster requirement, adding that it “welcomed the government’s commitment to engage closely with the independent production sector about the potential impact of this proposal,” adding that it was waiting for further detail and would “contribute constructively to these discussions.”

Plans to privatise C4 were initially proposed by Boris Johnson’s government last year, receiving opposition from politicians and industry figures, including Mahon, who warned that privatisation could cause “irreversible” damage to the UK TV sector.

C4 has been owned by the UK government since its launch in 1982, but ministers argued that the rise of streaming services has changed the landscape to such an extent that the broadcaster may be better placed in private ownership. That argument seems now to have been put to bed.

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