TV without ads? That was the view from Edinburgh

Advertising was noticeable by its absence from this year's Edinburgh International TV Festival.

Smith: Vice Media’s co-founder divided the Edinburgh audience
Smith: Vice Media’s co-founder divided the Edinburgh audience

"Media can change the world, and we have a responsibility to do it." Inspiring words from Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice Media and deliverer of this year’s Edinburgh International TV Festival MacTaggart lecture. No-one would argue with that, though a lot of what he said divided the audience. 

Not long ago, a billionaire internet entrepreneur would have been revered as possessing magical powers that TV bods lacked. This year, TV delegates looked at Vice and thought "Yep, we do all that" thanks to our vibrant culture of public-service broadcasting. They’re not as personally wealthy as Smith, though, but that’s down to the craziness of markets (valuing fast growth in users over profit), chutzpah and good luck. 

It was heartening to see the TV industry’s self-confidence. Gone are the agonisings about what TV is. TV is unequivocally that professional, deep and rich content that travels via any tech and platform to any screen. The only distinctions that matter are live or on-demand, pay or free. 

Advertising was touched on a few times, including in the MacTaggart. Smith believes display advertising is broken and "native", produced by Vice’s in-house team, is the way forward. Quite a challenge to creative agencies. But no wonder he fancies some TV ad money; Viceland (Vice’s linear TV channel) launches very soon.

There was a session on "brand content", which was rather flat. Otherwise, advertising was noticeable by its absence. Given its role in funding so much TV, this seems a huge shame. If the festival gave more time to advertising issues, would you come along? 

Two big issues stood out. Impartiality in TV news, and its possible role in enabling the "leave" vote to win, was debated in several sessions. Is im-partiality simply about giving both sides of the argument equal exposure? Diversity was also given proper weight. The launch of the Diamond Project, an industry-wide scheme to monitor diversity, is something our ad industry could copy.

The festival is at its best when displaying the brilliance of TV’s creators. Front-of-screen talent such as Sue Perkins, Reggie Yates and Lee Mack were there. The guys behind The Late Late Show with James Corden explained how Carpool Karaoke nearly didn’t happen because no talent was brave enough to take part until Mariah Carey agreed. Now there’s a waiting list. 

The women and men who run our TV channels and production companies were impressive and modest, with Channel 4’s Jay Hunt and ITV’s Kevin Lygo both eviscerating Smith in their personal, elegant fashions. 

But, for me, the absolute stars were the writers. Nothing much happens without them. Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax) won the Lifetime Achievement Award and Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) shared her approaches to boundary-pushing.

Ultimately, it’s about the creativity. I’ve heard that somewhere before.

Tess Alps is the chair of Thinkbox

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