Peter Fincham, a former independent producer, controller of BBC One and now director of television at ITV, used the influential annual McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to call on producers to shed their “distrust of the mass audience” and try to build audiences in ways no longer thought possible.
His call to keep television popular included a reminder to his high-minded audience that “TV was not branch of the education service”. He ended with a vision of broadcasting not as an outdated technology about to be left behind by history but as a kind of super reliable Wi-Fi effortlessly reaching everyone.
His vision was in sharp contrast to the messages that emanating from the Viral Grand Prix session on internet television where the competition winner was a grunge video of a lad getting repeatedly kicked in the groin. This was chosen not by a distinguished jury but by its not so mass audience.
At the same session broadcaster, turned independent producer, turned digital consultant, Peter Bazalgette outlined his version of the future and work in progress with the “hope we are not before our time”. Tellingly, the voice of experience was sitting next to Tom Thurlow, an 18 year old web producer and entrepreneur. Upcoming online reality programming apparently includes Meet the Freshers and Gap Year. Peter Bazalgette ended with the more than semi-serious remark that it should be possible to monetise clips from the television archive. “Frogs shagging” was his example.
The official view of the future came from American academic Clay Shirky who talked of Gutenberg economics and milkshake logic. He posited a world where television was breakfast, a stodgy fry up you needed to sit down to consume while the internet was a milkshake you could consume on the go. He described digital rights management as “nostalgia instantiated in software” and made the telling comparison between the digital world in terms of the physics of weather and the television world in terms of the physics of gravity.
The session on Video On Demand heard that the proposed Kangaroo joint venture between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will have a 40% share in 5 years time, the Competition Commission permitting. The Sunday morning faithful heard of a world where there was no need for channels, no need to have regular 30 minute or one hour programmes, and a world with global reach.
Sunday lunchtime brought the alternative McTaggart from comedy producer and director Armando Iannucci who brought his view that technology and new media are not the enemy. He warned his colleagues that “the changes will be bowel droppingly huge” and they needed to adapt. His specific suggestion was for the equivalent of HBO in the United Kingdom, probably at the BBC. Lots of dinosaurs, no doubt. Indeed dinosaurs shagging.