TV Mogul Slams UK Programme-Makers' Contempt for Audiences

05 July 2007

LONDON: Addressing a Royal Television Society Patron Breakfast at London's Savoy Hotel on Tuesday, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade was in combative mode, slamming the "casual contempt" displayed by many TV broadcasters toward their audiences.

His broadside was welcomed by many attendees, although some might have substituted "cynical" for Grade's qualifier of "casual".

Broadcasters, Grade urged, should adopt a "zero tolerance" stance towards lapses in editorial programming standards.

Such recent events as abuse of premium rate telephone services and wider editorial issues as to programme integrity should "sound a wake-up call" to all broadcasters.

Trust in their audiences "is not sufficiently valued" by programme-makers across all genres. "The discovery of these problems calls for a pretty fundamental re-examination of two key issues.

"First, how economic, technical and organisational changes have strained our ability to ensure the highest standards throughout the whole production chain?

"And second, what it has highlighted in our attitudes to our audiences: how - in some cases - was such a casual contempt for audiences allowed to develop?"

Grade reiterated comments made by Channel 4 ceo Andy Duncan: that broadcasters would do well to remember that "audiences and ratings are not the same thing".

"We must continually remind ourselves that the trust which our audiences have in our fair dealing as broadcasters is not negotiable, whatever the pressure, editorial or financial," he said.

[A sentiment that might not resonate as favourably in the gold-plated labyrinths of London EC2 and Wall Street as it did with seminar attendees.]

Grade also refuted suggestions that audience contempt evident in entertainment programming had no rub-off on the editorial integrity of a broadcaster's news output.

"You simply cannot alternate between treating audiences with respect, and [then] treating them with what is effectively contempt. What I am advocating is a zero tolerance approach to it."

He emphasised that a broadcaster's brand integrity is also a key digital property: "Viewers' trust is the most precious commodity in the old media armoury as we move into the digital world of plenty.

"As our different screens are increasingly invaded by new unlicensed video services of variable authenticity, trust and integrity must be one of the crucial distinguishing features of what we offer."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff