Channel 4, the social enterprise disguised as a broadcaster

Channel 4, the social enterprise disguised as a broadcaster
Vibek Mair, CiviSociety.co.uk
17.09.13

Channel 4 a social enterprise? It might sound unlikely, but Vibeka Mair finds it’s not so far-fetched. 
 
When Channel 4’s chief executive David Abraham described the 30-year-old broadcasting entity as a social enterprise at a recent conference for television executives, I laughed and judged it as another example of the misappropriation of the social enterprise brand.
In recent weeks, I’ve heard that the auditor PwC has described itself as a social enterprise, and added Channel 4 to the growing list of organisations that are using the term but not living up to its values.
 
But after a chat with a colleague and some research into Channel 4’s structure, the idea sounded less far-fetched.
Its website states: “Channel 4 is a publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster. We do not receive any public funding and have a remit to be innovative, experimental and distinctive…. Non-executive directors are appointed by Ofcom in agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This system ensures our not-for-profit status; that we are held accountable and that all profit generated by our commercial activity is directly reinvested back into the delivery of our public service remit.”
 
As such, it looks quite like a social enterprise – no shareholders benefit, it’s publicly-owned and its profits are reinvested into the business.
 
Abraham has worked at the Body Shop, often described as one of the UK’s best-known social enterprises, so perhaps this has had some influence on his new tag for Channel 4.
 
And in his speech on Channel 4 and fellow public service broadcasters, reported in Media Week, there are many parallels with popular descriptions of social enterprises.
 
He describes public service broadcasters as delivering social and economic benefits and says they have a duty to innovate in their market.
 
I’m not sure if Channel 4 is a social enterprise as it is traditionally understood but it is certainly interesting that its chief executive wants to associate itself with the brand.
 
Do you think Channel 4 is a social enterprise?

Join the debate at CivilSociety.co.uk