I’ve returned from this week’s Edinburgh Television Festival with a
firm belief that its handling of PR has been poor and needs
This is the TV industry’s big regular conference, and its strength is
that it traditionally attracts a volatile mix of both the bosses and
ambitious researchers and producers. For newspapers, the festival is
traditionally a rich source of stories during a slow period.
Edinburgh is the place where media figures ranging from Rupert Murdoch
and Sir John Birt to the late Dennis Potter and Janet Street-Porter have
made big splashy speeches, which set tongues wagging. This year, it was
the turn of Richard Eyre, chief executive of the ITV network, to make
the opening keynote MacTaggart lecture.
Eyre is the leader of a powerful team which has made huge changes in the
past year: abolishing News at Ten, reinventing mass appeal programming
with Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and hitting ambitious targets to
boost prime time audience share. A runner-up for the director
generalship of the BBC, but young enough to be considered after Greg
Dyke has gone, Eyre is an impressive man with a manner so persuasive he
has even managed to contain revolt by the advertising community.
Given the platform, he controversially asserted - playing to ITV’s self
interest - that public service television is dead and that detailed
content regulation of all the commercial channels is virtually a thing
of the past.
And his conviction that if everyone strives to make programming they are
proud of we can be saved from wall-to-wall junk makes my hair stand on
end - this at a time when a niche channel is running a poster campaign
advising that ’If you’re poor and ugly, you might as well cut off your
Eyre also claimed the BBC could reorient itself by abandoning its
reliance on audience share ratings, which means competing head-to-head
with ITV, and substitute a less demanding measure of audience reach.
Yet he was disappointed with the way his speech received virtually no
coverage in the papers, or on the BBC, the next day. The reason is
There used to be a straightforward embargo placed on the MacTaggart
until several hours before it was made. That ended last year. This year,
the main points of the speech turned up in the Times and the Guardian a
day early. With the Guardian paying a handsome sum to sponsor the
festival, it is bound to expect value for money and access to key
The result was to diminish the event, reduce debate, and erode the value
of the festival itself. It’s not right that other newspapers or a key
programme such as Today feel excluded, honour bound to ignore such an
important speech. This should be sorted out.