ITV and the BBC must become “friends” in the new media age says ITV chairman

Sir Peter Bazalgette signals an end to hostilities with the BBC – but will there be a stop to the ratings war?

(BBC, ITV – JG)

ITV executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette has said that the commercial network must become “friends” with the BBC and other UK broadcasters in order to safeguard public service broadcasting in the new digital media age.

Advertisement

Speaking at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in London, ITV’s Bazalgette signalled an end to hostilities with the BBC.

“At ITV we may criticise the BBC sometimes and argue it should be held more tightly to its remit,” he said. “We may compete hard with Channel 4 for talent and advertising. And we may negotiate hard with Virgin, Sky and BT about the value of our content.

“But in the future I think our old adversaries will also be our new friends, in order to sustain public service broadcasting in the 21st century.”

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Getty, BD
ITV executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette (Getty)

In his speech Bazalgette did not go so far as to call an end to the ratings hostilities with the BBC, which in the past has seen competitive scheduling of shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing against each other.

However, he did cite Britbox, the BBC and ITV’s new streaming service which launched earlier this year in the US, as a sign of more amicable things to come.

Bazalgette added that, while the growth of service like Netflix and Amazon have made TV “ubiquitous,” their emergence strengthened the argument that regulated public service broadcasting (PSB) was more important than ever.

“Far from being outdated, PSB is more important today than it’s ever been to our democracy, to our culture and to our economy,” said Bazalgette, a former chairman of the Arts Council who also brought Big Brother to the UK audiences when he ran production company Endemol in the 1990s.

In an era of “fake news” Bazalgette called public service broadcasting “the nutrition in the digital soup”, and said that viewers needed to be made more aware of “the exacting standards of impartiality and sourcing that PSB adheres to”.

He also said that all public service broadcasters need to be properly remunerated for their content when it is made available online, an argument which has been put forward before by many public service broadcasters.

In August, Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow took aim at Facebook in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, calling on the US giant to face up to its “moral responsibility” to the world in the age of fake news and declining revenues for news organisations.

Advertisement

“Facebook feasts on our products and pays all but nothing for them,” he said. “This cannot last. Governments, the EU and others have to play an even bigger part in forcing them to pay. I’m a fan of Facebook, but I’m not a fan of playing fast and loose with the products that we in this room generate at great expense.”