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U.K. government to call off Channel 4 sale

Illustration of a handshake forming part of the Union Jack.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The privatization of the U.K.'s state-owned broadcaster, Channel 4, appears to be off, according to a leaked government letter published by The News Agents Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: The broadcaster was valued at around £1 billion and had attracted interest from at least 25 buyers, including from U.S.-based companies Comcast (via Sky) and Paramount (via Channel 5) as well as Britain's ITV.

The intrigue: This represents a complete reversal of the plan under current culture secretary Michelle Donelan, who instead is planning to introduce a set of reforms as part of a sustainability package.

  • Former U.K. culture secretary Nadine Dorries suggested in April that privatization could help the TV network compete with the streaming giants that have prioritized international content production.
  • That initial decision to sell had also received near-total pushback from the British production industry.

Details: Among the biggest changes under Donelan's sustainability package would be allowing Channel 4 to produce its own content for the first time.

  • While the production sector had been strongly against selling Channel 4, this move could harm those companies who rely on international licensing deals. Those would go away if Channel 4 owned its own shows.
  • "The government will work closely with the independent production sector to consider what steps are necessary to ensure that Channel 4’s important role in driving investment into the sector — especially in the newest, smallest and most innovative producers — is safeguarded," the letter from Donelan to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
  • Additionally, Donelan wants to increase Channel 4's borrowing limit beyond the current £200 million ($240 million).

What they're saying: No surprise here, but Dorries is not in favor of the new plan:

  • "Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Leveling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down. A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2b reversed. Replaced with what?"
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