Edinburgh TV fest to focus on bigger picture

Future of broadcasting under scrutiny at 3-day event

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- U.K. TV executives will descend en masse to the Scottish capital this weekend for the annual MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Billed by fest executive committee chair and Endemol U.K. chief executive Tim Hincks as "three days when you stop thinking about the day-to-day of your business and start thinking slightly bigger picture," the event will feature a MacTaggart lecture delivered tonight by News Corp. Europe and Asia chief James Murdoch at McEwan Hall.

Murdoch -- who has maintained a studiously low profile since stepping down as chief executive of U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB two years ago -- is expected to address the ticklish issue of paying for newspaper content online as well as the success of satcaster BSkyB, of which he is chairman.

Twenty years ago, his father, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, took to the same podium to deliver a blistering -- and highly memorable -- attack on the "cozy" U.K. broadcasting establishment ahead of the launch of BSkyB, the U.K.'s most successful pay TV platform, which many in the industry at the time hoped would fail in ignominious fashion.

Other fest highlights will include the Worldview lecture delivered by RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler, who will cast his eye over the fortunes of the continent's free-to-air television broadcasters just days after RTL-owned Brit station Five announced a record 35% annual revenue slide.

ITV longtime presenting stalwarts Ant & Dec -- the co-hosts of "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" who are otherwise known as Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly -- will deliver the Alternative MacTaggart, while reality TV and tabloid star Peter Andre will give a master class on how to become a media brand.

"The Wire" creator David Simon will deliver a lecture on the show that has gripped a nightly niche of U.K. viewers on BBC2.

Debates about the future of public service broadcasting will be part of a number of different conference strands, with contributions from Ofcom chief Ed Richards, BBC director of vision Jana Bennett and ITV director of television Peter Fincham.

On the networking side, budget cuts and a painfully recessionary climate have closed the Channel 4 Soho House -- for many years the festival's prestige after-hours drinking club -- so delegates will have to flock further afield to rub shoulders with the plethora of producers and commissioning editors who make up the core of attendees.

This year's fest is hosting the main opening reception at Dynamic Earth as well as a Saturday night invitation-only party at nightclub Bacaro. However, the majority of conference attendees are expected to congregate at the bar of Edinburgh's George Hotel, for many years the venue for the entire conference before demand pushed it to a bigger venue.