Viacom’s £450m takeover of Channel 5 this week has been greeted by the production community as a positive move, likely to lead to an upturn in spend on new content at the broadcaster.
This expected increased in investment in the British creative industries should, of course, be welcomed.
Viacom, which owns MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and film studio Paramount Pictures, said the deal would allow the company to tap new ideas from the UK’s highly regarded production sector to play on its channels around the world.
The deal, however, marks the latest in a long line of acquisitions in the UK broadcasting and production sector by international investors.
It is the first time that a US company will control a public service broadcaster in the competitive UK market.
Yet, in the same week that US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s attempted takeover of the UK’s AstraZeneca has raised a slew of political concerns, Viacom’s acquisition of Britain’s fifth biggest channel has barely raised an eyebrow amongst commentators.
Indeed, it’s largely led to speculation that ITV might now be the next takeover target for US players such as CBS or Comcast.
Very few of the leading TV production companies are actually British owned, as Televisual reported in its Production 100 survey. The majority – from the producers of Downton Abbey through to the makers of Who Do You Think You Are? - are owned by the likes of Sony, NBC, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, RTL and De Agostini which all have major stakes in UK indies.
Furthermore, the UK’s biggest independent production group, All3Media, is now said to be in takeover talks with Discovery, which has hugely expanded its presence in the UK market in recent years. Digital firms such as Netlfix and Amazon are growing their presence significantly in the OTT sector. 21st Century Fox has a controlling stake in the country’s biggest pay-TV operator, BSkyB. Scripps, meanwhile, owns half of UKTV along with BBC Worldwide.
It leaves British run outfits such as the BBC, C4, ITV and BT looking like a rather dwindling part of the UK television landscape.