U.K. TV chiefs urge relaxation of rules

Broadcast market 'way over-regulated' says Michael Grade

CAMBRIDGE -- Media regulation, talent payments and the future direction of the BBC were the focus points emerging from the Royal Television Society biennial Cambridge Conference that wound down Friday.

Frustration with the regulatory environment was a key theme among commercial broadcasters, in the wake of an announcement by the Competition Commission last week that refused to give ITV more freedom over how its sells its advertising inventory.

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said the market for broadcasters was "way over-regulated," and that was "no way to operate in a fast-moving market," he said.

"We have Competition Commission, we have Ofcom, we have the Office of Fair Trading, we have parliamentary statute -- it takes forever to do anything. This is not the way to run a business."

Channel 4's exiting chief executive Andy Duncan said that broadcasters were stuck in a regulatory infrastructure based on the television industry of twenty years ago that took no account of the Internet.

"The Internet has to be thought about in regards to advertising -- the world isn't going to plateau in two years time and settle down, the changes we are experiencing structurally are going to accelerate -- and we still have a regulatory and policy timetable that is years out of step with the industry."

On the issue of talent payments -- which the BBC has come under parliamentary pressure to reveal -- ITV's Grade said the move would be unadvised and would end up proving costly to the pubcaster.

"Whilst it may seem a popular move, it will end up costing the BBC more money, not less. People often take a discount to work for the BBC but they don't want people to know about it -- if their pay is published they won't be able to be seen to agree on less than the market rate."

Concluding a three-day conference on the state of British broadcasting, the BBC director general Mark Thompson reiterated his view that the BBC's independence had to be protected, and warned the industry that it was not facing the whole range of threats ahead.

"We have huge systemic change," said Thompson. "There are really big issues to look at -- how is consolidation going to play out -- how will that effect the competitive environment. That is what we haven't decided."

Channel 4's Duncan agreed. "None of these changes are going to go away."
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