Channel 4’s current remit is a “straitjacket” that needs updating before the broadcaster “succumbs to the inevitable decline”, a former boss has said.
Baron Grade of Yarmouth, who was chief executive between 1988 and 1997, told the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee the broadcaster needed to own its own intellectual property and “gain scale”.
The Government has been consulting on plans to privatise the channel, which could be sold off to a private buyer.
Giving evidence to the Lords committee inquiry into the future of the broadcaster, Lord Grade described Channel 4 as a “minnow”.
He said his “first observation” is that “the status quo is not an option” and action is needed before it “succumbs to the inevitable decline”.
Lord Grade added: “The world has changed. The arguments for the status quo are backwards-looking. They look back to an age of huge government intervention.
“Channel 4 started as the only buyer of independent production and it was the mother and father of the independent sector, which is one of the great success stories of the British creative industry.”
Noting that Channel 4 is no longer the only buyer of independent productions, he said: “Channel 4 needs to do what every other free-to-air advertiser-supported business is doing, which is to own its own IP and to be able to gain scale.
“Everything in the Channel 4 constitution presently is against that and therefore it will, in my view, in a very short time really begin to struggle.”
Lord Grade said he was proud of his role in Channel 4’s history but its current remit was like a “straitjacket” in today’s media landscape.
He said: “I am proud of the part I played in the history of Channel 4. The history is important – and it is a product of its history – but it is history, folks. It is backward-looking.
“We have got to look forward to the next 10 to 20 years and try and preserve as much British broadcasting as we possibly can and protect it as best we can.
“But that doesn’t mean the same straitjacket remit – not programme remit but corporate remit – that Channel 4 has today which is 30 years out of date now.”
The TV executive criticised the idea that a privately owned Channel 4 would lose its distinct identity.
“Anyone acquiring that business, if they destroy that brand they are doing nothing but destroying value for their own shareholders,” he said.
“So I believe the best of Channel 4 in an acquisition, merger, consolidation move, will be preserved because the new owners would be mad to suddenly turn it into a sub-Channel 5 or aping ITV or whatever. It would be nonsense. It would be business insanity.”