EXCLUSIVE: The UK government has asked producers to provide data on their Channel 4 commissions as the controversial plan to create a C4 in-house production unit moves to the next stage.
Dozens of UK producers were contacted by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) earlier this week with a request for information on their deals with Channel 4.
An email, obtained by Deadline, asked for data on “Channel 4’s commissioning of your business, what proportion of your revenues that supports and how that commissioning has changed over time.” The request was voluntary and respondents were urged to highlight any concerns regarding the sharing of confidential information.
Producers were also asked to send in written submissions on “the role Channel 4 plays with regard to your business and the market” and “measures that the government should consider to ensure that Channel 4’s important role in driving investment into the [production] sector is safeguarded.”
The request came as the UK government moves to the next stage of the most controversial element of the Channel 4 privatization u-turn – the creation of a Channel 4 in-house productions unit that would mean the publisher-broadcaster owns the rights to its shows for the first time in its 40-year history.
This measure, which came a few weeks ago when the UK government announced it would not be selling the Gogglebox and It’s a Sin network, was met with alarm from the production sector, many of whom have used the sale of their Channel 4 shows as the bedrock for their businesses.
The DCMS email this week reiterated that any move to launch ‘C4 Productions’ would “safeguard” indies and have to be passed into UK law via the upcoming Media Bill.
The term “safeguard” was used several times and suggestions included Channel 4’s “indie quota” — the proportion of its £700M ($843M) content budget spent with truly independent production companies — be increased from its current level of 25%. Another option that has been floated in recent weeks is the introduction of specific protections for smaller indies, which tend to be more reliant on revenues from Channel 4 commissions.
Speaking to Deadline about the privatization u-turn, CEO Alex Mahon stressed that the ‘C4 Productions’ plan was the government’s brainchild, not Channel 4’s.
Respondents were given until April 12 to reply to this week’s email, before an outline proposal is shared publicly to “make sure Channel 4’s long-term sustainability is balanced with protections that safeguard the sector.”
The email wasn’t made public and isn’t a formal government consultation. Last year’s formal consultation into privatization hampered the government’s Channel 4 sale plans when a whopping 96% of respondents said a sale was a bad idea.
A DCMS spokeswoman said: “We have committed to working closely with the independent production sector to introduce appropriate protections, in light of Channel 4 being able to make some of its own content under our announced plans if it chooses to do so.”