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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?