Viacom has confirmed it is to acquire Channel 5 in a £450m ($760m) deal that will make it a major player in the free-to-air TV market.

The broadcaster, which operates pay-TV channels in the UK including Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, has swooped for the Northern & Shell-owned business four years after it was bought by Richard Desmond for £103.5m ($175m).

Viacom president Philippe Dauman said the momentum of C5 was “indisputable.”

“C5’s management and employees have done an outstanding job building their brand and we are pleased to welcome them to our team,” he said. “Viacom’s global resources, technology and expertise will help Channel 5 develop even more compelling programming and provide content to consumers in exciting new ways.”

Dauman added that the deal would result in a “dramatic” increase in the amount Viacom spends in the UK on original content.

“We look forward to partnering with local producers to introduce more UK-created content to global audiences, and will continue to explore opportunities in the UK, both in the free-to-air and pay television markets,” he said.

C5 chief operating officer Paul Dunthorne said: “Since Northern & Shell’s acquisition of C5 in 2010, the financial and operating performance of the business has been transformed with improved audiences and content offering. The combination of C5 with Viacom’s global resources, technology and expertise adds further to the momentum of the business and offers numerous exciting opportunities for the channel’s future.”

Viacom runs more than 20 stations in the UK in total, with brands including BET, free-to-air channel Viva and VH1. It has bought the portfolio of C5 brands, including 5*, 5USA, Demand 5 and kids block Milkshake.

The deal is being financed by Viacom’s existing cash balances.

Potential programming

Nickelodeon content will dovetail well with C5’s well-established Milkshake kids strand - Peppa Pig is the brand that links the two most directly.

Elsewhere Comedy Central has been edging into original commissioning under the leadership of Jill Offman, while MTV has found success with reality franchises including Geordie Shore, The Valleys and new brand Ex on the Beach.

But acquiring Channel 5 will still represent a huge leap for Viacom in the UK. It will go from ordering a handful of UK shows to sit alongside acquired US content, to running a fully fledged, origination-led broadcaster.

Last month, Steve Regan, vice-president of production at MTV UK, issued a commissioning brief for MTV, saying he wanted ideas that are completely “unexpected” and “don’t look like our other hits”.