ITV has run to a parliamentary committee to complain about the BBC drawing on the programme formats of its commercial rivals for ideas, instead of making original shows. It is also concerned that the Corporation paid out for a UK version of the global entertainment format The Voice.
No doubt the success of The Voice in the Saturday-night ratings war – the show’s acquisition of Kylie Minogue added 2 million to the viewing figures last weekend – has got under ITV’s skin. With X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, ITV has led the way with Saturday-night talent shows during the past decade, and it wants to protect that position.
ITV has a point when it says that the BBC has a duty to be “distinctive and innovative”. We do not pay the licence fee for replication of the kind of content that we can find elsewhere in the broadcasting schedules. But ITV is hardly weakened. Since 2010, when Adam Crozier and Archie Norman took over as respectively chief executive and chairman of the commercial broadcaster, it has returned to financial good health. Its main network was named Channel of the Year at last summer’s Edinburgh Television Festival.
ITV has made its representation to MPs as they hold an inquiry into the future of the BBC. That inquiry is justified. The organisation has been through a turbulent 16 months and needs to make its case for future public funding beyond this Royal Charter, which finishes at the end of 2016. But although the BBC is not a commercial broadcaster it is also judged on ratings. If audiences dwindle it will find it hard to resist the demands of its enemies for the scrapping of the licence fee.
BBC Director-General Tony Hall and his Director of Television Danny Cohen have recognised the need to rejuvenate the BBC’s in-house production teams and have made that a priority. And the BBC has recently reminded us – in its coverage of London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks and in original shows such as Sherlock, Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing and Mrs Brown’s Boys – that it can still keep audiences happy.