The trading of insults and criticisms between ITV and Channel 4 throughout the course of this year’s Edinburgh International TV Festival took a new twist yesterday evening when Channel 4 was chosen as Terrestrial Channel of the Year.
Throughout yesterday, Channel 4 had been defending itself against criticisms of it made the previous evening by outgoing ITV chief executive, Charles Allen, during the festival’s keynote speech, the MacTaggart Lecture.
The award simply allowed Kevin Lygo, Channel 4’s director of programmes, to fan the flames of a spat that had been simmering all day. “I’ve got to go to dinner with [Charles Allen] tonight,” he said. “I could always show him this [award] – because he’s probably never seen one.”
At the start of the day, Lygo had begun his fightback by declaring: “I never watch ITV.” Of the MacTaggart Lecture, he added: “It’s slightly odd [the out-going boss] was not speaking about ITV. He gave no overview of ITV.”
Allen’s call for Channel 4 to have a written remit, and to stick closer to a public sector broadcasting brief, had Lygo responding: “We do deliver to our remit, or we’d be told off by [broadcasting regulators] Ofcom,” who added that he was not in line to succeed Allen. “I’ve never been contacted by ITV and I can’t believe I will”.
In response to criticism that his channel is too dependent on Big Brother, Lygo said he hoped the format “would keep running forever” and said this year’s show had been “the best, most inventively-produced ever”.
Later in the day, the spat continued, this time the turn of Channel 4 chair, Luke Johnson, the subject of this year’s Richard Dunn Memorial Interview at the festival.
“ITV is obsessed by Channel 4 when it should be dealing with its own issues,” said a combative Johnson, who felt Allen’s successor should concentrate on taking more risks, creatively; plus move to dramatically improve the morale of staff; plus invest in research and development in new ventures in new media. And, finally, to tell its shareholders it would rather invest its profits in the company than pay them a dividend.
“If Marks and Spencer can be turned around, anything is possible,” he added.
Interviewed by James Harding, Business and City editor at The Times, Johnson did admit to feeling Channel 4 is vulnerable to a future where it doesn’t own content – only commissions it for TV broadcast purposes and owns time-limited rights – but where content is increasingly being shown not just on television but mobile telephones, the internet, etc.
But he denied there were any plans for Channel 4 to make programmes in-house. “There are no immediate plans, but I think it’s valid to discuss all options.”
The other awards given out yesterday evening were:
Programme of the Year: Planet Earth
Industry Player of the Year: Russell Davies
Special Achievement: Dawn Airey, stepping down as executive chair of the festival after five years
TV Personality of the Year: David Attenborough
Non-Terrestrial Channel of the Year: BBC Four