Carolyn McCall mounted a robust defence of public service broadcasting at the RTS Digital Convention 2020.
The Chief Executive of ITV said that the coronavirus epidemic had “brought home to a lot of people” the importance of having “a trusted [TV] source, [with no] disinformation”.
But she warned: “A lot of the stuff that goes on air would not be made if it wasn’t for the fact that there are public service broadcasters.”
McCall called for public service broadcasting, which is currently being reviewed by both media regulator Ofcom and the DCMS committee, to be treated fairly.
“A public service broadcaster has to have prominence because if you don’t have prominence your content will not be found in this new digital world with platforms who can exclude you,” she said.
“It’s a skewed market; it’s not fair or reasonable," continued McCall. “We need a level playing field – we’re not asking for special favours.”
McCall went on to outline a future for ITV that combined the old and the new, but with the latter taking the lead: “We have to be a digitally led media and entertainment business.
“We’ve got this amazing channel, ITV, which has huge audiences. We want to keep those big audiences and we do that through major event TV, and I think that has many years to come.”
But, McCall added, “people under 35, particularly, are watching things on demand all the time… We want to do on-demand in a bigger, better way. ITV Hub, personalisation, recommendation, all of that, and Britbox, are very much part of [our] future.”
Britbox, she said, has “done brilliantly in America and Canada – the international model is a very robust one”.
In the UK, McCall added, the joint ITV-BBC streaming service “is meeting all its targets but it’s a very different product here because we all have our own services, our iPlayers and Hubs, so it’s more tricky”.
Topical satire show Spitting Image, which was released on Britbox this month after a TV break of more than two decades, “is a big step in making it a very distinctive service. It has had widespread coverage and a lot of subscriber interest.”
She added: “If we think [a show] is going to do well on Britbox and in international territories we can co-produce it with the international division and that obviously brings down the cost for Britbox. Spitting Image is a good example of that because it crosses boundaries very well. I think you’ll see more of that to come.”
McCall discussed ITV’s much-praised anti-racist advertisement, which was published in response to the Black Lives Matter routine performed by dance troupe Diversity on Britain’s Got Talent in early September.
Ofcom received more than 20,000 complaints about the routine, but ITV stood by the show. “Within seconds of people seeing the ad, I had so many emails and text messages from people internally from every part of the company,” McCall recalled.
Returning to the coronavirus epidemic, McCall accepted that it would continue to affect the television industry.
She added: “We have to continue to be careful about our cash, because the only way to deal with this kind of uncertainty economically is to make sure you’ve got a strong balance sheet.”
“[But] the one unassailable fact is that people are going to be watching a lot of content and that’s great for us. We have to keep producing that [with] the quality and engagement that we do… We need to keep our productions going safely – that’s a priority for us.
Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of ITV, was in conversation with Charlene White, ITV News London and Loose Women presenter, as part of the RTS Digital Convention 2020, sponsored by YouTube, on 13 October. The producer was Helen Scott. A full report will appear in the next issue of Television.