Edinburgh TV Festival: Sky 1 admits to being 'more Homer than Marge' and Channel 5 claims it's "too clever" to be a copycat

TV

Reporting by Jess Goodfellow, Jenny Cleeton and Gillian West

Day two at the Edinburgh TV Festival began with a bang as all six channel controllers took to the stage for a feisty leaders' debate. Throughout the day channel controllers were quizzed on a range of topics from diversity on and off-screen to new formats and whether we have indeed reached 'peak TV' with US 'Gamechangers' sharing their thoughts on talent, diversity and social media.

Channel controllers agree BBC shouldn't disclose top stars' pay

Kicking off Thursday morning at Edinburgh TV Festival was a leaders' debate that saw controllers from the six most popular channels discuss a range of topics from 'sex on TV' to whether or not the BBC should disclose if members of staff are paid more than the prime minister.

Starting the debate, host Martha Kearney, asked the controllers if they thought it was time to pass the baton over to the “baby boomers”, to which Channel 5’s Ben Frow exclaimed that “would be a disaster.”

With the average age of each channel now above 50-years-old and only Channel 4’s extension channel, E4, averaging at 42, Channel 4’s Jay Hunt commented that she doesn’t agree with the nostalgic aspect of TV.

“I think we have a responsibility to produce new and innovative TV," she said, adding we're at a dangerous place of "demonising" older viewers.

Discussion soon turned to sex and nudity, and the inevitable complaints that come with leaving ITV's Kevin Lygo to take the lead, arguing “it’s all a bit of fun.” Channel 4's Hunt agreed, pointing to the channel's controversial dating show, Naked Attraction and echoing comments made in her 'Meet the Controller' session yesterday about appealing to the "swipe left and right" generation.

To end the conversation, the other five channels stood in defense of Moore's comments yesterday that the BBC should not disclose its stars' salaries with Frow claiming he feels the likes of Graham Norton should be paid more.

'Gamechanger' Julie Plec reveals the dark side of social fandoms

Competing with the Leaders’ Debate in the early morning slot was ‘Gamechanger’ Julie Plec, the show runner behind The CW’s Vampire Diaries and The Originals, who chatted about breaking into the industry, women in television and dealing with the darker side of social media fandoms.

Speaking to media journalist, Johnathan Plunkett, Plec revealed her unconventional route into writing after a stint working for a year on Dawson’s Creek with show runner Kevin Williamson.

Creating shows for a predominately teen and young adult crowd, Plec commented that fans today know so much more about the nature of television and have access to show runners she had never dreamed of thanks to social media, admitting it creates a “strange relationship”.

“At it’s healthiest social media creates a forum and a community but the downside is there’s this faction of people who exist to attack and make you feel bad. They’re the ones who instigate wars and will hit below the belt,” she explained, adding that she’s had her fair share of rants about bullying and keeping it classy.

“The sad thing is I don’t read mentions now, every now and again I’ll skim but I’ve lost that connection with the fandom because it is too hurtful,” she said, but added that she does try to “engage with the good as much as I can.”

Sky 1: 'More Homer than Marge'

Fresh from the leaders’ debate Sky 1’s Adam MacDonald sat down with Anna Richardson to discuss the channel he’s been building steadily for the last three years.

An unusual channel in terms of gender, split 50/50, MacDonald was pressed on the lack of female talent on Sky 1 by Richardson who deemed the situation “woeful”.

“Sky 1 is about the family and, yes, we do view that more through the prism of a dad,” he argued, joking the channel is definitely “more Homer than Marge”.

“When we do shows with men it’s about families and joy, but we do need more women in factual entertainment,” he conceded though failed to make and out and out commitment to finding female talent. “I can make a commitment that we really want to, and we’ll 100 per cent try,” he promised.

When asked if linear TV can survive in such a fragmented environment, MacDonald confessed he doesn’t see Sky 1 as a linear channel but as a brand, citing strong on-demand and catch-up figures as his reasoning not to get caught up in the overnights.

“We recently got the rights to The Late Late Show and that’s exclusively for on-demand. Of course we still have debates over when shows should air but I say it doesn’t matter, people will watch when they want. That said the linear slot you pick sets the tone for a show, but whether its a Thursday or a Friday it’s about unlocking that show for the weekend.”

As a subscription services, MacDonald admitted he did feel the pressure to make sure the content on Sky 1 is “different and fresh” and revealed the amount of money Sky pumps into football has no bearing on drama and entertainment budgets, in fact what the channel can spend on drama and entertainment hinges on the football acquisition.

At the end of the session MacDonald cleared up any rumours that Sky was disappointed by Clarkson, Hammond and May’s move to Amazon when an audience member asked if he was disappointed Amazon had “stole them”. “No,” he replied instantly, “they didn’t steal them from me.”

Is there enough content made for men?

With statistics showing that men watch 30 minutes less TV per day than women, 'What Men Want' session host Sue Perkins was quick to ask her four male panelists on Thursday afternoon what their opinion on that particular statistic was.

Splitting the group down the middle pondering whether or not there was enough content for men, Shine Television creative director, Tim Whitwell, said: “Men like to watch gripping TV with great stories – and there isn’t always something like that.” With Dave, Gold and W general manager, Steve North reminding the audience that while men might watch less, they still do watch three hours and 20 minutes of TV a day, so they maybe shouldn't get caught up in the figures.

And whilst it was argued that Top Gear was the perfect show for men as it gave them a "clubby sense and notion travelling without women,” broadcaster Reggie Yates took it upon himself to remind the panel who and what the once popular car show was made for.

“A programme like Top Gear is not made for a person like me," Yates said, "the older I get the more I realise that. I watch comedy and quality drama, but there are few shows that speak to a person like me.”

Channel 5 "too clever" to copy others

Always good value for money Channel 5’s Ben Frow took to the stage for his ‘Meet the Controller’ session with Martha Kearney. Maintaining his long-held view that as a public service broadcaster (PSB) Channel 5 needs to be “populist and accessible” Frow said it was his job as a controller to notice “sea changes in the nation” and predict what will be popular in nine months time.

Pressed on the perceived copy-cat nature of Channel 5 shows, Frow proclaimed he was “bored of the question” joking he was “too clever and too creative” to need to copy people.

“We don’t go ‘let’s copy this’, certain things are of the moment and in the zeitgeist so there will be some similarities,” he said, comparing running a channel to running a fashion house. “As controllers we’ll all wake up un the middle of the night at some point and go ‘adventure’ and there will be similarities between all of the shows.”

Pressed on why Channel 5 isn’t as respected as its peers, Frow joked it’s down to people being “snobs”.

“There’s a little bit of history there and I suppose it sticks in the craw for some people to give Channel 5 credit, or it’s not seen as being as ambitious or cool as the other channels, but the reputation amongst viewers is changing,” he commented.

“I do get demoralised by it, but I’m reassured by the people in my team that it will change and I will change people’s perceptions. It’s a tricky one.”

Turning his eye to Big Brother and the current headline-grabbing run of Celebrity Big Brother Frow revealed next year he will be looking for shows that will “take the spotlight off of Big Brother.”

“It’s a valuable show but it can cast a shadow over the other stuff we do.”

You can read The Drum's coverage of day one of the festival here. Coverage of the third and final day tomorrow will feature sessions from The Late Late Show producers, BBC Three's Damian Kavanagh and debate on whether virtual reality (VR) is the future or a fad.

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