Murdoch lecture wasn’t radical but still raised important issues.
You may have not have attended this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival, but you will certainly have heard all about it – not least, the opening session. As Peter Fincham slowly recovers and we, the viewer, slowly unclench our buttocks, we ponder not so much his humiliation, but his heroism. Well, he was a good sport at any rate.
And whether you cringed or cackled, Keith Lemon at least demonstrated all the elements of a good TV festival: anarchy, creativity and provocation.
While there was no overarching theme this year, there was at least a bid to achieve some of those elements in many of the sessions.
Liz Murdoch will never be labelled ‘anarchic’ but she did make a successful bid to distance herself from the Murdoch party line, notably her brother James and his famous exposition that the only guarantor of independence is profit.
Strip out this latest twist in the Murdoch family saga, however, and there was little radical in her speech as far as TV is concerned; no call for a change in policy or the selling off or scaling back of BBC in-house production as expected.
Even her idea that the terms of trade should apply to all buyers, irrespective of whether they are a PSB – i.e. Sky – was buried in a sentence towards the end. And neither did she elaborate much on the thought in her Q&A the next day.
On the whole, however, it was warmly received, particularly her focus on ‘community’ and her call for greater collaboration between industry players. Stop quibbling over crumbs like product placement and start thinking of the bigger cake, she warned us, or someone else will. And she’s right.
She was also right to point out that “we ignore the rising generation of digital natives at our peril”. This was perhaps best summed up in another session, where young entrepreneur Jamal Edwards, in a fairly offhand remark, claimed that BBC1 controller Danny Cohen had told him no one would watch his series for young people.
So he went straight to YouTube and this year, into the Sunday Times Rich List at 21. He won’t be the last, though it remains the case that decent TV web experiences are as rare as a new Saturday night entertainment hit, the latter another area of robust discussion at the festival.
Meanwhile, the lengthy emotional passages of Murdoch’s speech revealed her belief in the power of the medium: “Television has been my friend, my comfort, my window on the world.”
Our purpose is not the pursuit of profit, she urged, it is “the service of the people”. It would have seemed unlikely at the start for a Murdoch to have shared the non-corporatist values of Channel 4 but that’s exactly what emerged.
Interviewed by former C4 chief executive Michael Jackson, its current boss David Abraham reinforced C4’s role in society at a time when many now question its mission, some 30 years on. The past may have been about punk, politics and breaking taboos but C4 can still be an agent for change, he argued, whether it’s about multiculturalism, online deception or youth unemployment.
We often hear the phrase ‘it’s only telly’, but the one message coming loud and clear from Edinburgh is that it’s way more than that.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast