BBC1 chief declares truce in Saturday night ratings war

The BBC and ITV's Saturday night ratings war is at an end, the controller of BBC1, Jay Hunt, has signalled, saying she would no longer be alarmed if her network ceased to be Britain's most popular channel.

Ms Hunt said she would not be concerned if Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC's most popular show, attracted smaller audiences than ITV's The X Factor. A fierce scheduling war between the two angered viewers last year. "I don't think it would matter in a pure sense, I don't regard it as a competition between us and ITV," she said, adding that it was still important that BBC1 programmes commanded large audiences. "I don't think it matters, frankly, where we are relative to ITV."

Ms Hunt, who refused to comment on intense speculation that she will be applying to become chief creative officer at Channel 4, was speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival after the BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, made a key speech attacking the dominance of the British media by BSkyB and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (which is the satellite broadcaster's largest shareholder).

The BBC1 controller's comments were a further suggestion that the BBC no longer sees itself in competition with its traditional rival ITV – which Mr Thompson said had never been as powerful a competitor as BSkyB is now.

Warned by the radio presenter Simon Mayo, who was interviewing her, that she would be criticised for poor ratings, she said: "[Ratings] matter, but they don't matter hugely." She cited recent BBC1 programmes on the arts, including one about Picasso, saying they were not designed to attract vast audiences. "Not everything we do is about being hugely competitive."

She said "I don't think it matters particularly" if Strictly Come Dancing was beaten in the ratings by The X Factor. Mayo reminded her of the previous rivalries. "Yes, it did last year and it did the year before and everybody got terribly excited by that, but at the end of the day the final was watched by more than 11 million people," she said.

"It's still our highest rating entertainment show by a very long stretch. I'm sort of agnostic about [ratings], I don't think it matters. What is exciting is in this day and age having both BBC and ITV on a Saturday night both delivering audiences north of 10 million." This year, for the first time, Strictly Come Dancing viewers will get to see the "magical moment" at the start of the competition when the celebrities meet their dancing partners.

Mayo, a BBC colleague, questioned Ms Hunt over "speculation" that she would leave the Corporation for Channel 4 and asked her about her relationship with the other BBC channel controllers. "I'm not speculating on what I may or may not do at some future date," said Ms Hunt, who denied that she had unduly poached successful programmes from her BBC colleagues, saying that only Masterchef and QI from BBC2 and Gavin & Stacey from BBC3 had made the transition.

She also denied an accusation by the television executive Andy Harries that BBC1 had suffered a "talent exodus" on her watch, a reference to the departures of Jonathan Ross, Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. Ms Hunt admitted that the loss of Chiles had been "hard" but said The One Show, which he had presented, had not suffered from his absence.

"The bottom line is that I'm sitting here now, two weeks into the new-look One Show, with brand new presenters who are completely unknown to a BBC1 audience and it has performed more robustly than it has ever performed before."

Those comments echoed remarks made by Mr Thompson on Friday when he said that the BBC, which has been facing criticism over its spending levels, might have to allow some of its top stars to leave.

Ms Hunt said the BBC would have to learn to be "more pragmatic" in negotiating with talent, though she said Chiles had been "given the offer of work that a lot of presenters would give their back teeth for" as the BBC tried to persuade him to stay.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory