Murdoch fille sez digital may save TV

BskyB pilot speaks at Edinburgh TV fest

EDINBURGH, Scotland — In her first major public speech since arriving in the U.K. in 1996, Elisabeth Murdoch, general manager of pay service British Sky Broadcasting, tubthumped digital television in the Worldview Address at the Edinburgh International TV Festival on Saturday.

“Digital could well be the savior of television,” she said in an address that rang as a passionate prelude to — and timely promo for — the launch of Sky Digital’s 200 channel universe on Oct. 1. It also harked back to 1989, when her father, Rupert Murdoch, gave the fest’s opening MacTaggart lecture, the same year Sky Television launched.

“At that time, Britain’s existing TV establishment greeted the emergence of Sky and my father’s early predictions of a multi-channel environment with dismay and in many cases total contempt,” said the younger Murdoch. “But this year is different. The predictions are over.”

Similar to shopping

Murdoch outlined Sky Digital’s objectives as being similar to successful British retailer Marks and Spencer: “quality, choice and really good value.” In a retort to the “old guard” rhetoric about not needing hundreds of channels, she said: “No one complains that Marks and Spencer has more products than you need on any particular day.”

Murdoch also drove home the point that demographic groups can no longer be neatly defined or counted on to act as expected. “Nobody, but nobody, behaves like your sales department really wants them to,” she said.

She also reassured the several hundred TV delegates packed into the General Assembly hall atop the Edinburgh Mound that TV will hold its own in an increasing online environment. “TV will continue to be the dominant medium for lean-back leisure rather than lean-forward interaction,” she posited.

More of a confab for U.K. TV brass than a true festival, the Edinburgh event traditionally skeds a prominent international entertainment figure for the speech, given in previous years by Ted Turner and Barry Diller.

The other high-profile pulpit piece is the MacTaggart lecture, this year delivered by U.K. producer Peter Bazalgette, managing director of Bazal. As expected, Bazalgette, best known for his popular food and DIY shows, took to task the Independent TV Commission (U.K. TV industry’s regulatory organization). He argued: “Our TV industry is mollycoddled by regulators, bloated on protected revenue and addicted to a system set up 45 years ago.”

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