Edinburgh TV Festival: BBC director of content opposes revealing stars' salaries and Channel 4 vows to throw its heart into the Paralympics
Reporting from Jess Goodfellow, Jenny Cleeton and Gillian West.
The Edinburgh TV Festival has kicked off for another year with sessions from BBC One, ITV Digital, Channel 4 and Amazon taking centre stage on day one.
Highlights of the day include BBC One's Charlotte Moore revealing her position on controversial government plans to reveal stars' salaries and Channel 4's Jay Hunt offering to throw everything the broadcaster's got at the troubled Paralympic Games.
ITV reaps rewards from BBC Three's online shift
The first sessions of the festival saw ITV’s newly appointed head of digital channels and acquisitions Rosemary Newell discussing her experience of managing ITV’s "arguably too many" (an audience member chimed) channels, asserting “it is not a nightmare”.
When asked if BBC Three’s linear closure affected ITV’s commissioning decisions, after the broadcaster snapped up rights to Family Guy and American Dad, Hewell admitted that while “there is definitely some upside for ITV2”, and that it opened up “a small space for producers to bring ideas to us”, the output has not been largely affected.
“We had a very successful brand refresh last year on ITV2,” she said. “We know who we are and a lot of what BBC used to do is not necessarily the content we would do anyway.”
Channel 4 presenter Rick Edwards quizzed Hewell on pushing the boat out with risky comedy content like Family Guy, and how far the broadcaster can go.
“We can push the envelope but don’t want anything that is too far,” she said. “We don’t want derivative shows but things that will make a lot of noise, you can’t have a quiet show it makes no sense.”
It is these popular ITV2 shows, together with 2016 hit Love Island, that are helping the broadcaster reach the “unreachable” millennial audience, who others argued “are lost to linear forever”.
“I think we proved all that wrong. Love Island reached younger viewers in their millions, on linear and digital. To say that we are unequipped to reach them does the production team a disservice. Thinkbox research shows the amount of time people spending in that age group has not dropped.”
While ITV2 is in healthy numbers, ITV4 ratings are “on the slide”, Edwards said. It is more competitive than ever for sports channels to win broadcasting rights.
“We have lost some European football so we will inevitably see the consequence of that. But we have a really passionate fan base and attract significant numbers of people. We are going to be aggressive in competing for sports rights, next year we will broadcast the horse racing.
“It is hard, undeniably, because sports rights are being very fierce, but we are in the game.” For Newell, the biggest challenge is “keeping the momentum of growth”.
“Keeping channels feeling fresh and original, always having shows we want to shout about, schedules full of ideas, audiences connected,” she concluded.
All shows are not born equally when it comes to digital
Next up was a breakout session with Tellybug chief Matt Millar and Warner Bros. group head of digital Martin Trickey who discussed how digital is increasingly playing a key role in the making of successful TV formats.
While digital is key in global formats Millar explained how there isn’t any definitive international way for apps to work: “International is hard. The UK is the most advanced in the world for brands being digital savvy and we’ve got the richest environment to make things with but to sell to other markets from the UK is really hard without a headline sponsor.
“All shows are loved equally but not all shows are born digitally equal to one another.”
Picking up on Millar’s answer, Trickey explained how time differences can be one of the biggest issues, especially in the US, as this is a problem with voting apps, since users in opposing time zones could know who won while voting is still open via social media.
During the discussion, the pair discussed the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the special ecosystem it has managed to create for itself digitally. Recognising the viral and shareable nature of some the show's segments the team created EllenTube - essentially the show's own version of YouTube - where it could control its video distribution and as sales. In addition to EllenTube the show also manages its online community and actively invites them to take part in the television shows through apps like 'Heads Up' which, though not overly branded, is part of the Ellen brand world.
Towards the end of the session the duo turned their attention to VR and AR, where the pair were less convinced of the technologies’ practicalities. Trickey said: “We don’t know how to tell stories with VR. And sure it is interesting when you attach a 360 camera to a drone but how can you tell a story with it?
“It just won’t take off while people are having to strap a big plastic thing to their faces. But technology is advancing – remember the first mobile phone?”
Revealing BBC stars' salaries "not in the interests of licence fee payers"
Early afternoon it fell to the BBC’s Charlotte Moore to pack out one of the TV Festival’s biggest rooms for her ‘Meet the Controller’ session with ITV’s Mary Nightingale.
Recently installed as content director of the BBC - in addition to her BBC controller role - Moore admitted the job was “not without its challenges” before taking time to address a number of issues including commissioning, diversity and new talent, and the controversial subject of how much the BBC pays its talent.
When pressed on the issue of whether or not she thought the BBC should unveil the wages of its top stars like Graham Norton and Gary Lineker, Moore said such a move would not be in the interest of licence fee payers and, in fact, could drive talent fees up.
“I think we are already very transparent about a lot at the BBC, but talent fees is a difficult one. The outcome could well be that talent fees will go up because if everybody knows what everybody is being paid they’ll go ‘I want to be paid that,’” she said, adding that sometimes talent fees are outwith the hands of the BBC if someone is paid by a production company.
“We know our audience expects to have the best talent on BBC One and we also know that we can’t pay as much as other broadcasters.”
Shifting focus to recent headlines surrounding the BBC’s audience share, and BBC Three’s move from TV to digital-only, Moore protested that BBC One is still one of the biggest channels for young and diverse audiences, though admitted EastEnders plays a crucial role in that.
“If you look at the top ten dramas though for younger viewers eight of those are BBC shows. The Great British Bake Off drives a huge young audience and in terms of BBC Three you can’t judge it on the way it was before. It was risky but the BBC has to engage in a digital world, it’s a long journey, we’re making real impact but you can’t judge it too quickly.”
Of the biggest challenge she’s facing Moore said the “multi-platform, multi-media world” could be seen as a threat but she’s not scared. “We need to embrace change, to not be fearful and be bold.”
Channel 4 commits to throwing "everything we have" at the Paralympics
Mid-afternoon it was Channel 4's Jay Hunt's chance to take to the stage with Business Insider's Jake Kanter to discuss the future of the channel and how she managed to take the once failing channel to what she claims to be the "only channel to have raised it’s share percentage in the last year".
With the channel set to cover Paralympic Games for the second times in a matter of weeks, Hunt discussed her fears, and disgust, with regards to how the Games have been treated this year. “I hope we throw everything we have at the production. We have the Last Leg Live every night with a host a celebrity guests and we have hundreds of people on the ground. I want the British audience to be there and show that we as a British public are there and accepting," she said.
“I think it is depressing that there will be a substandard audience for the Paralympics.”
Following the discussion of the Paralympics, Hunt was asked how she hopes to continue educating and transforming the minds of viewers. She responded with how TV shows such The Island and Naked Attraction were actually educating young people and had real insight into the changes that were taking place around the world, discussing a report which claimed young boys were impotent after raising their expectations to match porn. “We are redefining body image and saying this is what a normal body looks like for a generation that does swipe left and right," she argued.
Dropping the 'P Bomb' Kanter asked Hunt of the abounding rumour of Channel 4 privatisation, with Hunt revealing she found it "dispiriting" to be sitting here one year on and still none the wiser.
"It does get unsettling," she said. "I'm planning into 2018 and trying ti make deals with returning series' - it needs resolving."
The Drum will be following day two of the Edinburgh TV Festival tomorrow covering the Leaders' Debate, Sky 1's Adam MacDonald, Channel 5's Ben Frow and more.