Edinburgh TV Festival: top ten talking points

Charles Allen was the Festival's main talking point with his strong criticism of ITV's advertisers, Darren Davidson writes.

1. MacTaggart Lecture

If the MacTaggart Lecture - the centrepiece of the Festival - is intended to stimulate debate, the outgoing ITV chief executive, Charles Allen, succeeded. Allen got people debating whether Channel 4 still deserved its public status and subsidy. Not only did he divert attention away from ITV's problems, he also set the agenda as Ofcom prepares to review Channel 4's funding.

2. Allen attacks ITV's customers

The MacTaggart lecture grabbed the headlines for Allen's attack on ITV's biggest commercial rival, Channel 4. However, TV executives were shocked by his criticism of ITV's advertisers. Allen said: "They tell us they want ITV to be strong, to deliver mass, to own event, to surprise with drama that shakes the trees. But the flip side of that - investing with us in the schedule, giving us the financial firepower to do the job - they're just not quite there yet."

3. Don't confuse online with TV

Broadcasters should hold back some of their best content for their television channels and offer different material online. That was the advice of Marissa Meyer, Google's vice-president for search and user experience. Broadcasters are currently doing the opposite in a bid to arrest the decline of younger audiences and out-manoeuvre online video sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

4. Mass audiences

Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of technology and new media, has predicted that by 2011 the only events with the potential to clear ten million viewers will be a royal wedding and an England World Cup final. By comparison, in 1994 182 programmes cleared ten million viewers. Highfield argued that the ability to consume media at any time and in any place was leading to the demise of mass audiences.

5. Reality TV

Reality TV is a genre in decline, five's director of programmes, Dan Chambers, thinks. Chambers, who used to work on Big Brother while he was at Channel 4, said the need to keep viewers interested meant Channel 4 was going to unjustifiable extremes by using dysfunctional characters. He said: "It is not as exciting as it used to be. Do they make it more extreme and untenable, or do they accept it is a format in decline?"

6. BBC versus News Corp

Sparks flew as representatives of the two media giants squared up for a debate on the future of online. Les Hinton, the executive chairman of News Corp's UK subsidiary News International, argued the BBC's size was endangering the growth of big and small commercial rivals. Caroline Thomson, the BBC director of policy and strategy, hit back, asking for specific examples of online companies that have gone out of business because of competition from the BBC. However, no-one had an answer.

7. Al Gore

One of the highlights of the three-day Festival was the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture from the former US politician Al Gore, who recently became the president of the US TV channel CurrentTV. In his alternative lecture, Gore argued that the convergence of TV and the internet could help fight political apathy.

8. ITV winter schedule

The weekend was bookended by Allen's blazing attack on Channel 4 and the publication of ITV's winter schedule. The network's crucial winter schedule delivers big names and familiar brands, such as Cracker and Prime Suspect, in a bid to revive its peaktime schedule.

9. Channel 4

Channel 4 was named the terrestrial TV channel of the year by an industry panel. The non-terrestrial channel of the year was won by BBC4. The shortlist was judged by the Festival's executive chairman, Dawn Airey, and members of the executive committee.

10. The Festival's future

With so much talk regarding emerging technologies, many people argued the Festival could be rebranded a media festival in 2007 to recognise the speed at which new ways to view programming are growing.

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