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Kevin Spacey Laments Lack Of Ballsy TV Execs In Wide-Ranging MacTaggart Lecture

Kevin Spacey officially opened the Guardian Edinburgh Television Festival in the Scottish capital this evening, becoming the first Hollywood star, rather than exec or broadcaster, ever to deliver the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. The lecture is designed to focus on the topics that are currently top of mind for the British TV biz. The House Of Cards star and exec producer riffed that the Netflix show was “one of the primary — if not the only reason — I was asked to speak today.” In an hourlong speech, he touched on the show’s innovations, the problems with pilots, the importance of storytelling and the industry’s responsibility to support new talent.

One of his more rousing comments was about making programming. “We know what works and the only thing we don’t know is why it’s so difficult to find executives with the fortitude, the wisdom and the balls to do it,” he offered. Speaking of the House Of Cards experience, he said, “Of course we went to all the major networks… and every single one was very interested in the idea… but every one of them wanted us to do a pilot first… Netflix was the only network that said, ‘We believe in you. We’ve run our data and it tells us that our audience would watch this series. We don’t need you to do a pilot. How many episodes do you want to do?’” Read More »

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Kevin Spacey To Deliver MacTaggart Lecture; Speech Usually Given By Major UK TV Execs

In a first for a Hollywood star, Kevin Spacey will deliver the keynote MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival in August. The influential speech traditionally focuses on serious issues facing the UK TV business. It has in the past been delivered by three members of the Murdoch family: Rupert, James and Elisabeth, who gave last year’s address. Other previous speakers include Ted Turner, Eric Schmidt and former BBC chief Mark Thompson.

Spacey’s involvement comes on the heels of exec producing and starring in House Of Cards, which Netflix positioned as a game-changer by releasing all 13 episodes of the drama’s first season at once. Season two is currently filming. On giving the MacTaggart, Spacey said, “Clearly this has been an exciting period for me personally, but also I believe this is a time of huge opportunity, innovation and creativity for all of us who live to tell stories and engage audiences. I’m excited to share my thoughts and meet players from across the media industry. I’m also an Edinburgh TV Festival virgin so have no idea what I am letting myself in for!” Read More »

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BBC Chief Blasts Rupert & James Murdoch

As expected, BBC director general Mark Thompson has gone on the attack against the Murdochs and News Corp. He warned that Sky will shortly become Britain’s biggest broadcaster and said such a concentration of cross-media ownership would not be allowed in the U.S.. Thompson blasted Sky for spending so little on original programming and pointed out that the £100 million it spends each year is not much more than Channel 5’s UK programme budget. This is despite Sky’s £5.9 billion turnover being more than 15 times that of Five’s.

Thompson also used his keynote Edinburgh TV festival speech to single out News Corp for weakening and undermining the BBC. At times, he evoked playwright Dennis Potter’s fiery 1993 Mactaggart lecture pouring bile on Rupert Murdoch. Thompson defended the BBC as an idea of “public space”, one which “would not put anybody on the wrong side of an encryption wall”. Thompson criticised the Murdoch press for chipping away at the BBC trying to uncover some new petty scandal. Stories attacking the BBC were ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense, Thompson said. One reporter cheerfully admitted to him that his newspaper bosses were just out to get the Corporation. The free-marketers have spent the last 25 years making a case for abolishing the BBC, said Thompson, yet public support for the Beeb has actually increased.

“Enemies of public service broadcasting always want to atomise … Read More »

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BBC Boss Mark Thompson To Lay Into Sky

Thompson will attack Sky tonight during his Mactaggart lecture speech at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Thompson will point to the vast scale of Sky and its influence over the UK broadcasting industry. He will compare the £2 billion the Corporation spends on programmes with the estimated £100 million Sky spends on original UK content. This is despite the BBC’s annual £3.6 billion licence fee being smaller than the £5.3 billion Sky earned last year. The BBC Director General is taking the gloves off and going on the offensive tonight, telling staff in a recent email that “it’s time to take on some of the BBC’s critics head-on”. Last year, News Corp director James Murdoch used the lecture to delivering a withering attack on the BBC, describing its scale as “chilling”.

Tonight’s keynote speech is seen as make-or-break for Thompson, who faces growing unrest among BBC staff. BBC employees are currently being balloted on whether to take strike action over plans to make their pensions less generous. And they smell double standards when top BBC managers opt to stay in London while the rank and file are forced to move to Salford, near Manchester. The BBC is moving more production to the north of England in order to stop the Corporation being such a metropolitan broadcaster.

In a nod to the challenges faced by the BBC’s commercial rivals, Thompson will … Read More »

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