It was time to take stock. After three days of intense and stimulating debate, Lorraine Heggessey corralled some of broadcasting’s big beasts onstage to chew the fat at the final session of Cambridge 2015. Was television heading for Happy Valley or was the House of Cards about to collapse?
Since Jeremy Clarkson punched his Top Gear producer, Oisin Tymon, during a row over the lack of a hot meal, the problems of managing talent have been centre stage.
Former BBC Controller of Entertainment Commissioning Jane Lush said that the fracas distilled some of the key questions that executives and programme-makers face: “How powerful is talent, where do you draw the line on bad behaviour and is top talent really irreplaceable?”
The European Commission is determined to tear down regulatory walls and move from 28 national markets to a Digital Single Market. TV’s independent sector harbours strong doubts, especially if geo-blocking, which prevents content crossing borders, is outlawed.
Today, there is more power in your pocket than in Buzz Aldrin’s wildest dreams, thanks to the rise and rise of the smartphone. This was the starting point for a high-speed peek at how mobiles are changing and building on television content, from potentially enriching natural history programmes to explaining magic tricks.
Audiences at the Cambridge Convention have grown accustomed to Ofcom chiefs who either “don’t think television is as special as people who work in television think it is” (Stephen Carter), or who are not averse to regulating more of the BBC (Ed Richards).
Since taking command at Discovery Communications in 2007, David Zaslav has conquered the world. The US giant now operates in 230 countries – and is still expanding.
Eurosport was added to its roster of channels in 2014 and the rights to the Olympics Games nabbed this summer.
“We are a global company and more global than any other media company in the world. We have more employees outside the US than we do in the US. We make more money outside the US,” said Zaslav.
There is little agreement about whether increasing US ownership of Britain’s independent sector threatens or sustains home-grown production and the UK’s unique creative culture.
A feisty session at the Convention, “Working for the yankee dollar? Consolidation and creativity”, offered conflicting views, not only on foreign ownership but also on the surprise review into the terms of trade announced by minister John Whittingdale the day before.
John Whittingdale was introduced by Convention Chair Tony Hall as “a rare beast, a politician who watches television”, and he began his speech by reminding delegates that, for him, this convention was no baptism of fire.
His first appearance at Cambridge came 12 years ago as Shadow Secretary of State for Culture; he had set up his own panel to review the future funding of the BBC. Then, as now, the corporation’s Charter and licence fee were the key issues on the agenda.
The digital revolution will be televised,” argued Viacom chief Philippe Dauman in an upbeat address to the RTS Convention. Twelve months after the US media giant bought Channel 5 for £450m, Dauman offered a positive “end-of-term report on our first year as a British public service broadcaster”.
“Today, I am pleased to reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rights and responsibilities that entails. We pledged that we would increase investment and original creative content – we have, and will continue to do so.”