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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
ITV's chief tears into Channel 4
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Charles Allen
Charles Allen is due to leave ITV later this year
ITV's outgoing chief executive Charles Allen has attacked Channel 4, saying it should "grow up" and face greater scrutiny of its programmes.

Mr Allen told the Edinburgh TV Festival that Channel 4 needs fewer repeats and more original shows.

Channel 4 dismissed Mr Allen's attack, saying it had "a far broader and more challenging mix" of shows than on ITV.

Mr Allen also defended ITV's recent ratings dip, adding the past year had been "tough" for the channel.

He used the prestigious MacTaggart lecture, the centrepiece of the festival, to say it was time "the enfant terrible of UK broadcasting grew up".

More people watch ITV1 than the five largest commercial competitors combined
Charles Allen

Mr Allen said Channel 4 "enjoys very significant privileges via its public ownership", while making "absolutely no return to either the Treasury or to its shareholders".

"In exchange for these privileges, you would expect Channel 4 to be held to a far tougher set of obligations than its commercial competitors. Wrong," he said.

"In key areas, Channel 4 is delivering less than its commercial competitors.

"Less original production, less production outside London, less news in and around peak, and no children's programmes to speak of."

He went on: "True, in some areas, it delivers more. More repeats, more acquired programmes, more US imports."

Channel 4 was "behaving like a 25-year-old still living at home", he said, "dipping into mum's purse, even when it's got a fat pay cheque in its back pocket".

'Creative reinvention'

Channel 4 countered by saying it was "far more effective" in meeting its remit than ITV and broadcast "commercial programming alongside a diverse mix of public service output".

In a statement, the broadcaster said that its peak-time schedules contained genres "that have all but disappeared from the schedules of Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster".

It added that Mr Allen would have been better "to set out a vision for ITV's own commercial and creative reinvention" instead of attacking a rival.

Mr Allen - who leaves his role on 1 October following a drop in advertising revenues and audience ratings - also defended his time at the helm of ITV.

'Fantastic shows'

He said his speech would contain "no job application from me, no gratuitous point-scoring and certainly no regrets".

"Every other month seems to bring another 'worst night ever for ITV' headline," he said.

Kevin Whately
Mr Allen called Lewis, starring Kevin Whately, a 'fantastic' show

"ITV1 is still the number one UK channel in peak [time]. More people watch ITV1 than the five largest commercial competitors combined.

"We still scale the ratings heights."

He conceded that ITV was 'in the middle of a transition'.

"There will always be misses alongside the hits," he said, in a year when reality show Love Island failed to beat Channel 4's Big Brother in the ratings, and Phillip Schofield's latest series, It's Now or Never, was dropped after one episode.

However, ITV "will deliver" in future, he promised, citing detective drama Lewis and Dancing On Ice as examples of "fantastic shows".

Investment in programming at ITV was up over 50% since 1993, he said.

Such a commitment to quality output was important to avoid what he called "a sort-of trading down" in which "ITV becomes Channel 4, Channel 4 becomes Five, and so on".

If this happened, "the upshot will be a poorer viewing experience for the British public," he said.

"We'll all have a nice digital television and a shiny set-top box.

"We'll have dozens of channels; we may even have high-definition, but we won't actually have anything we want to watch."

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