The title of Channel 4’s latest annual report is ‘Britain’s Creative Greenhouse.’

The phrase speaks volumes about how the broadcaster is positioning itself in 2015, a year when talk of a £1bn privatisation by the Conservative government has reared its head.

C4, argues chairman Lord Burns, “plays a special role as a creative greenhouse for TV, film and digital.” He describes C4 as a not for profit, publically owned company that makes a major contribution to the UK economy at zero cost to the tax payer.

Indeed, C4 remains a vital source of business for the UK’s successful indie sector, spending £430m on original programming and working with 338 suppliers last year. 207 were indie TV companies, 92 online suppliers and 92 film companies. 49 were new suppliers to C4. ITV by comparison, works with 89 indies and C5 some 59.

Meanwhile, C4 spent £169m on factual, up 10% following investment in series like The Jump, The Taste and Troy. Investment in entertainment also rose 10% to £109m, with new series of Gogglebox and 8 out of 10 Cats. Drama spend fell 13% to £100m following the cancellation of Shameless, but the channel says it plans record spend in both drama and comedy this year.

Some of the figures in the annual report are less impressive. Viewing to the main channel fell to its lowest-ever share at 5.9%. Back in 2005, it stood at 9.6%. However, the audience share of C4’s portfolio of six channels was more stable at 10.9% compared to 10.8% in 2005.

C4’s executive team were also handsomely rewarded, with chief executive David Abraham receiving £855k – almost double the £450k pay of BBC director general Tony Hall. Creative director Jay Hunt earned £581k.

Speaking at the launch of the C4 annual report today, chief executive David Abraham warned that privatisation would inevitably mean less money being spent on original content so that C4 could achieve a “20-25% margin, like ITV”.

Abraham added: “I don’t think you could have a C4-lite; you either have full Channel 4 or you have Channel 5.”

The implicit warning is that C4 would have to spend less on distinctive, not for profit shows like Dispatches and Channel 4 News if it was privatised.

The message to government seemed pretty clear: selling off Britain’s Creative Greenhouse would risk undermining the fragile ecosystem that helps grow the UK’s creative industries.

Tim Dams

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