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Laura’s Edinburgh TV Fest Roundup

My arrival into Edinburgh was a late but welcoming one. The rain was pouring, as expected, and when my taxi arrived I was greeted with a bellowing ‘LAURRRA’, with rolling R’s and all. The driver spoke to me from the moment I got in, to the moment I got out, such a contrast to the often dreary taxi drivers in London! He even proceeded to tell me a conundrum of insults he shouts out to drivers that annoy him, all of which are non-repeatable and I don’t think I will be using them in a hurry, but entertaining none the less…my first experience of Scottish soil was starting off as everything I had imagined!

In the morning I arrived at the festival to lots of smiley faces and the smell of fresh coffee. I found a perch and met a lovely chap called Ian who was nervously waiting for a client meeting he’d been trying to arrange for over a year, unfortunately he had just spilled coffee over his trousers, which I am sure added to his nerves, but as his client arrived he shortly relaxed as he was also very friendly and equally enthusiastic to meet with Ian. Soon after, I met a Company Director for a production company which creates documentaries for Channel 4 and BBC. He was eager to talk about The Crewing Company, which was great for me because I was venturing out alone and it eased me in nicely to my networking experience. We discussed what the festival had to offer and were both trying to figure out how we were going to fit so much in!

As soon as it hit 10.30am I made my way up to the BT TV Networking Lounge for a bit of Scottish Breakfast including traditional Ayrshire bacon, homemade potato scones and grilled smoked salmon…delicious! Already my perception of the festival was manifesting before my very eyes; meeting lots of interesting people, eating yummy food and having lots of tea (perhaps even a Prosecco later…I can only hope!)

The first talk I attended was The Last Leg Masterclass, where the cast of the show chatted with Rick Edwards about their efforts to improve diversity in the broadcast industry. They aimed to bring disability into the mainstream through their coverage of the Paralympics, but they quickly evolved into a show in their own right discussing current news and creating the hashtag #isitok?, touching on subjects many people wonder if it really is ok to talk about. The panel were entertaining and thought provoking, and clearly showed they wanted to make a change within the industry. They have already achieved such a lot in the 3 years they have been making the show, and I will certainly be a regular viewer now! It was great way to kick off the festival for me, and I was excited about what more was to come.

After lunch, the Directors of all the major channels; BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and SKY took to the stage for a ‘Leaders’ Debate’, and my oh my it was interesting! The Pentland suite soon filled up with eagerly awaiting TV professionals to hear what they had to say, particularly with the controversy this year of the changes to the BBC, the Jeremy Clarkson scenario and the ratings battles between Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor expecting to be discussed. The Sky News presenter, Kay Burley, was at the forefront of the debate, persuading, encouraging and provoking the Directors to discuss these subjects in detail. Danny Cohen, Director of Television at the BBC, was first up for the interrogation from Kay, and was asked his thoughts on Jeremy Clarkson and the future of the BBC, and dealt with the direct questioning well, although he didn’t give too much away! Each of the Directors was asked about the BBC, and it was clear that there was a deep love and respect for the channel, and all of them would like to see it develop and remain on TV sets (or laptops, or ipads). Interestingly enough 3 out of the 5 Directors on stage had actually worked at BBC themselves throughout their developing careers, and they weren’t afraid to explain that being able to look at it as an outsider gave them a very different perspective on the channel. I even witnessed a taster of the argument between when X Factor and Strictly should start and finish as to not overlap…it got a teeny weeny bit heated, great viewing for us, the audience though! The subject of the growing departure from traditional viewing to box sets and Netflix was a big issue at the festival, and was talked about in depth throughout the debate and the festival as more and more channels and production companies are recognising that viewing is moving away from the static TV set and into more flexible ways of viewing for everyone…heck I’m on the train writing this and hoping to watch an episode of Made in Chelsea for the last hour of my journey, and the lady next to me is watching a Time Team special through her phone (I know this because she thought she had plugged her earphones in, but hadn’t, and didn’t realise because it was so loud out of the speakers that she thought it was her headphones, her husband had to tell her off…LOL).

Later that evening, Armando Iannucci, writer and broadcaster of many critically acclaimed television and radio comedy shows, delivered the 2015 James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, which ended in a 1600 strong crowd standing ovation. He talked of the current climate, where no one know what is going to happen in the industry and explained “nobody knows anything”, and perhaps he’s right. Who knows what will happen to TV Schedules, revenues, watching habits, funding, the BBC, investment, government interference? I suppose we just sit back and watch…whether that’s through our phones, on our laptops or on the good old fashioned television. One thing Armando was sure of though, is that TV still matters, and we can keep it alive with exciting content and intelligent programme making.

Once the standing ovation came to an end, it was all aboard the coaches provided to take us to the ITV opening night drinks reception at the stunning Victorian Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland…and let the networking commence! To cut a VERY long story short, I was lucky enough to sneak into a private party and ended up in the same bar as Martin Freeman and the headmaster from The Inbetweeners, I was well behaved though and was tucked up in bed by 1am as I knew the next day was filled with even more delights; meeting a few of our Scotland based freelancers was one of them!

The rest of the Festival was a mixture of meeting people from various aspects of the industry; from the Director of Icon Films on the sofa in the atrium, a Producer of Ross Kemp Gangs before his meeting with a commissioner about a new set of ideas, a Development Producer at Firecracker Films at the drinks in the Why Not Nightclub that was put on by the festival, a lovely freelance Assistant Producer who was also new to the festival and finding her bearings, the Managing Director of Maker Studios and I even fought over the last Mojito with the Director of entertainment channels for SKY, Stuart Murphy (I let him have it as felt he deserved it after the intense Leaders’ Debate), amongst many more influential and creative professionals!

In short, if you haven’t been to the festival, I would thoroughly recommend it! The price of the ticket is fairly high, but not only can you make the most of the free teas, coffees, wine, mojitos, bloody Mary’s, sandwiches and biscuits and more. The Guardian Edinburgh Television Festival clearly work extremely hard to provide the most topical and informative talks with some of the industry’s top Producers and Directors as well as some exciting talent! Not only is Edinburgh a beautiful setting, but it’s a fantastic city to hold the festival. With the Fringe Festival going on simultaneously, there is a real buzz in the air that makes you want to chat all day and stay up all night. You will come back with a croaky voice and a hint (or more) of a hangover, but with lots of great new contacts, some fresh ideas and a deeper knowledge of what is going on right now in the television industry, and what the next year has waiting for us!