by Guy Dampier
Wednesday, 6
April 2022
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11:33

The Left and Right are both wrong about Channel 4

Privatising it won't help either side
by Guy Dampier
The infamous Jordan Peterson interview on Channel 4 with Cathy Newman

The Government’s announcement that they will privatise Channel 4 has led to predictable howls of outrage from the Left, with comparisons to Orban, while free marketeers on the Right have welcomed the sale of an institution set up by Thatcher.

Both sides may be thinking largely of Channel 4 News, which has attracted controversy over its perceived Left-wing bias. Infamously presenter Jon Snow was reprimanded for supposedly chanting “F**k the Tories” at Glastonbury while in 2019 the studio audience booed when exit polls predicted a Conservative election victory.

However, Channel 4’s problems go far beyond that. Although live TV still accounts for a majority of viewing, over 60% of households now have a streaming service and increasingly large numbers of young people don’t watch live TV or even own a television.

At the same time Channel 4’s original output has declined. In 2016 they bragged of a £92 million spend on films but only commissioned three themselves. The rest were Hollywood buy-ins. That same year 35% of Channel 4 programmes and 90% of E4’s were acquisitions rather than original commissions.

Their public service remit has also suffered, with increasingly few programmes on religion, education, or the regions. Their schedule this Saturday consists of a documentary about Prince Phillip, two farming shows, and a film about British royalty. It’s a long way from the days when they’d commission a four-hour adaptation of an obscure Shelley novel.

To some degree this was inevitable, as audiences have fractured to watch new channels. But will privatisation help?

Although some have said that the privatisation might be “payback” for their Left-wing bias, it’s unlikely that will change. If anything, it’s likely to get worse, as the Government will no longer have a veto on the board’s membership or be able to control their finances or terms of operation. Channel 4 was already profitable, so the temptation will be to lean even further into their pre-existing Left-wing audience, as polemical television in the USA has done.

Supporters also argue that privatisation will help them raise capital and compete against streamers like Netflix or Amazon. But the streaming market is already so over-saturated that when giant Paramount announced a $6 billion investment into their new service their stock actually dropped 20%.

Rather than trying to compete with streaming services, Channel 4 should copy South Korea and produce programmes for streamers to acquire. Huge investment in culture has led to the global phenomenon of K-Pop, while on Netflix Korean-origin programming was the second most watched, with 4.3 billion hours. Britain came in third, with 2.2 billion hours watched.

The Koreans went from being a cultural non-entity to persuading people to watch dramas about obscure Joseon dynasties, culminating in hits like zombie-historical epic Kingdom or the science-fiction thriller Squid Game, which was Netflix’s most watched show of all time.

They did so by producing at scale for a global audience. British dramas are reliant on an old-fashioned commissioning system where a handful of people choose what to make, resulting in artisanal one-off series. Instead, the Koreans prefer longer series which can reuse sets, keeping costs down, and with limited nudity or other adult content, they can be watched even in Saudi Arabia. With so many programmes produced, there is an intense competition for viewers, which has led to more high quality and creative programming.

The Vaccine Taskforce showed how successful a venture capitalist model for government could be. Rather than privatise Channel 4, the government should seek to replicate that success, with a high-powered outsider given the remit to imitate Korea and make Britain the most successful producer of high-quality programmes for streaming services.

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Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
4 months ago

I think you’ve missed the point about the bias – it isn’t the lack of objectivity that’s the problem, it’s that the British taxpayer is forced to subsidise their own denigration that is grotesque!

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
4 months ago

‘The Koreans went from being a cultural non-entity to persuading people to watch dramas about obscure Joseon dynasties, culminating in hits like zombie-historical epic Kingdom or the science-fiction thriller Squid Game, which was Netflix’s most watched show of all time’

In fairness, Korea has produced excellent films for a long time – they weren’t ‘cultural non-entities’ – but it’s only since streaming services that they’ve had global viewing.
We have given up Western dramas in favour of Korean ones as we think they are much better than anything made in the West. It’s a shame that it’s the violent and disturbing ones such as Squid Game, Parasite and Kingdom etc which Korea is best known for as there are loads of wonderful non violent (or much less violent) which are brilliant.
They are very well written, subtle, well acted, witty and beautifully filmed.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dapple Grey
Robert Quark
Robert Quark
4 months ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

Any recommendations please, beyond the headline Korean films and shows?

J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Quark

If you enjoy horror I strongly recommend “The Wailing.” It’s a long film that starts in almost humorous vein and gradually becomes much more disturbing, largely through the power of suggestion.
There’s also “Train to Buhan” if you enjoy zombies, and “The Host” if you enjoy monsters. All done with relatively little graphic violence compared to Western style movies.
“I Saw the Devil” is about a real serial killer in Korea about twenty years ago.
“Moon Embracing the Sun” is a historical drama/thriller about a female shaman’s involvement in politics.
Then there’s “Wife of a Spy” which is a Japanese movie about a woman who suspects her husband is a spy during the second world war.
Nature abhors a vacuum and as Western movies become ever more woke and tedious, foreign competitors step in to fill the gap.
Enjoy.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Moon Embracing the Sun is brilliant and enhanced by Kim Soo Hyun’s gorgeous looks and incredible acting.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Quark

Try Crash Landing on You on Netflix. It’s about a young South Korean woman from a rich dysfunctional family who goes paragliding and is blown in a hurricane into North Korea where she’s rescued by a (handsome) Captain.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Quark

Also I think maybe the best of all is called Secret Love Affair about a 40 year old married woman who works for a arts foundation owned by a an awful rich family, and a 20 year old piano prodigy who fall in love. Unfortunately it’s only available on Viki, the Asian streaming service – unless you have a VPN in which case it may be available on other sites.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
4 months ago

Naked attraction is more than enough reason to pull the plug on a permanent basis.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

I couldn’t agree more. That programme is a clear indicator of how confused we have become as a society about sexual morality. We have obsessive and daft ‘Safeguarding’ rules in churches and other institutions alongside this sort of pernicious trash on C4.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
4 months ago

Why is anyone watching ‘a channel’ anymore?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

I’ve loved some of the comedy shows that C4 has made or shown from abroad, the most recent being Derry Girls. But there was a lot of dross, and its increasing, so I don’t mind it being privatised.

Susan Lundie
Susan Lundie
4 months ago

The point is, this channel has chosen to go down the pathway of insulting a large percentage of those it was established to serve (or at least entertain), the alternative Queen’s Christmas message being one example, and a superfluity of puerile Sunday tabloid style programming another. Now I really don’t give a toss what they broadcast, but I do object to being, technically, a part owner of such programming, whether or not they pay their own way. As such I am pleased for them to make their own way without public protection. Good riddance!
And let us then do the same to the BBC on a similar premise, who in fact I do reluctantly pay to support.

Last edited 4 months ago by Susan Lundie