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Mogul’s son talks tough on world TV

Murdoch says media companies don't see global picture

EDINBURGH, Scotland — James Murdoch railed against the arrogance of Anglo-American media companies at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival Sunday night, attacking virtually everybody except News Corp.

Friday night,. BBC director general Greg Dyke kicked off the annual gathering of the U.K.’s TV biz with straight-up talk about big changes for the pubcaster, including further boosts in programming spending, theming the BBC’s output across five channels and shifting the evening news from 9 to 10. He ended the prestigious MacTaggart lecture by saying, “It’s the programs, stupid.”

Giving the Alternative MacTaggart lecture, Murdoch, chairman and chief exec of Star TV, said global players in the entertainment biz ignore Mandarin, Spanish and Hindi speakers at their peril if they hope to remain competitive in the digital age.

Murdoch, at 27 the youngest of Rupert Murdoch’s children, said “most media companies have failed to understand what it means to be a global company” and are mistaken to assume “that simply broadcasting around the world, CNN-style, or exporting English-language films, is a sufficient global strategy.”

Outright dismissal

Dismissing Greg Dyke’s assertion that the BBC was becoming Britain’s leading global media player, Murdoch ignored the existence of the BBC’s international TV channels and other interests, saying that exporting programming did not amount to much of a global presence.

Murdoch added that “no one working in media outside of Britain regards the BBC as a competitor” and went on to question whether a public broadcaster — in this case a “forced subscription service” — should even be in the international marketplace.

But the Beeb wasn’t Murdoch’s only target: He also had choice words regarding Pacific Century Cyberworks, the Star rival backed by Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li, who sold Star to News Corp. in 1993.

Known to consider the Internet vital to turning around Star’s fortunes, Murdoch said, “PCCW, and it’s U.K.-based production subsidiary, Network of the World, is arguably the worst offender of paying lip service to the notion of globalism. I fail to understand how one can define a free-to-air, English language rehash of circa-1980 MTV as a global multimedia-broadband-interactive-TV service.”

NOW does have plans to set up non-English services in China, India and Japan.

Big changes for Beeb

In his address, Dyke discussed additional coin for programming and said BBC1 and BBC2 have promised more than half the new cash.

Dyke said that next year BBC1 will receive £95 million ($142.5 million) extra, primarily to produce drama, and the year after that the budget will be increased by another $82.5 million.

BBC3 and BBC4 — as BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge are being renamed — can expect a total budget of $195 million next year, almost double this year’s budget. The fifth channel remains BBC News 24.

But BBC3 and BBC4 will also host kids TV services during the day, one for preschoolers, the other for children 6-13.

Many had expected these to be standalone webs, but Dyke said seven services across five channels guaranteed terrestrial access for viewers –and was what the BBC could afford.

Gold standard

Elsewhere, the BBC’s budget for regional programming will be upped by $75 million over the next two years.

On content, Dyke said he wanted BBC1 to become the “gold standard of mainstream television,” and that in the long term BBC2 will increasingly focus on “specialist factual programs.” That said, BBC2 will also remain a “test bed” for entertainment for young audiences.

BBC3, meanwhile, will be home to more radical experiments in drama, comedy and music, while BBC4 will offer “unashamedly intellectual” arts and current-affairs programming.

The BBC move to a more themed approach had been expected but is the cause of some consternation to the British government. The politicians will undoubtedly take an especially hard look at moving the news, which requires government approval.

It’s a particularly sensitive issue given that the ITV network, the BBC’s main rival, is battling with its regulator to keep ITV’s newscast at 11 p.m.

“I believe the stark choice facing the BBC today is that we either change or we simply manage to decline gracefully — and none of us joined the BBC to do that,” said Dyke.

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