EDINBURGH TV FESTIVAL: Ball criticises BBC's lack of innovation in programming

Tony Ball, the chief executive of BSkyB, used the MacTaggart lecture to call on the BBC to sell off some of its hit programmes to the commercial broadcasters.

Ball said tried-and-tested formats still ruled the BBC's schedules and that if they were auctioned off to the commercial sector, then this would both free up time in the schedules and ensure that the licence fee was put to the most creative use possible.

"The licence fee would then truly be, in (the culture secretary) Tessa Jowell's words, a venture capital fund for the nation, stimulating new creativity, to the benefit of the entire industry and the viewing public," Ball said.

"But, like venture capital, it would fund risky new projects with a high potential creative return, rather then being used to perpetuate established shows."

However, other broadcasters dismissed Ball's proposals as fanciful, and in a statement the BBC said: "This speech clearly reflects BSkyB's view that programmes are merely a commodity to be bought and sold. The BBC - and probably the majority of British broadcasters and producers - believe that programmes are about creativity, talent and broader cultural and social influences."

Ball continued his attacks on the BBC throughout his speech. In particular, he complained that the BBC was spending too much of the public's money competing against its commercial rivals, when it should instead be investing it in original, homegrown programming.

He said: "Why on earth, for example, did the BBC pay Warner Brothers millions for the terrestrial rights to the first Harry Potter movie in the face of competition from other free-to-air channels?

"The BBC's prime motivation appears to have been guaranteeing victory in the Christmas Day ratings battle - this is a clear example of executive willy waving supplanting the public-service ethos."