Bleak U.K. picture

TV exex discuss lack of global impact at confab

CAMBRIDGE — Britain’s most senior TV execs have all but admitted it is too late to become global players, blaming too much regulation, market distortion caused by the dominant role of the BBC — and the British disease of introspection.

In a debate at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention, the downbeat mood was set by BBC director general Greg Dyke, who confessed that the pubcaster’s lack of access to private capital prevented it from becoming a worldwide force.

Dyke, who has worked in the commercial sector, also acknowledged that past attempts at international expansion by British telcos ended in disaster.

Serving up explanations

“When ITV companies have bought U.S. companies, those guys have seen us coming and eaten us for breakfast,” he said, referring to TVS’ acquisition of MTM in the late ’80s.

Dyke said that consolidation of ITV — now controlled by Granada and Carlton — would happen only when it was too late to take advantage of global opportunities.

“We have been amazingly introverted,” he said, “and too busy shooting ourselves to bits to look outside.”

BSkyB CEO Tony Ball blamed market distortion caused by the BBC and regulation for inhibiting overseas growth by Blighty TV companies.

Carlton maven Gerry Murphy, a relative newcomer to Blighty’s entertainment industry, endorsed this view.

As for expansion domestically, Ball told delegates he ruled out taking a minority stake in RTL-controlled Channel 5 nixing press reports last weekend. But said that if media ownership rules were changed, BSkyB would be interested in controlling a U.K.-based terrestrial network.

Charles Allen, executive chairman of Granada, said it was too late for companies like his to expand into global giants, but he was optimistic about international prospects for Granada’s production business. Company has made forays into the U.S. market but so far without generating any big money for itself.

“By selling content to people like Discovery and National Geographic we’ve provided them with the bricks, and they’ve made the building,” he said.

Counterpoint

During the debate, there were two dissenters from this bleak view.

BBC Worldwide CEO Rupert Gavin claimed that BBC spinoff channels like BBC World now have a global audience of 300 million. New ventures like BBC Canada are being launched regularly.

Alex Graham, CEO of independent Wall to Wall, was also bullish. He hailed the breakthroughs made in the U.S. by British and Euro independents with shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Big Brother.”

“Broadcasters have effectively crushed us out of the U.K. market so we’re increasingly looking to the U.S.,” said Graham. “The key is to free up indies. We are the real entrepreneurs.”

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