Avalon Boss Jon Thoday “Surprised” ITV Bosses Didn’t Know About Phillip Schofield Affair – Edinburgh TV Festival


Avalon boss Jon Thoday has said he is “surprised” that ITV bosses weren’t aware of Phillip Schofield’s relationship with a much younger runner on This Morning.

Speaking during the Power of TV debate at the Edinburgh TV Festival, the boss of the Starstruck producer and Rose Matafeo agency said “it is management’s job to know what is going on.”

Schofield resigned in disgrace several weeks ago from the popular breakfast show and ITV CEO Carolyn McCall has since said “no evidence” of the affair was brought to her team, while more This Morning current and former staff have since approached a government committee with toxicity complaints. ITV has said it informally approached the younger runner and Schofield around a dozen times over the years about the affair rumors.

“If you run a business and someone is doing something wrong it’s unusual for [management] not to know about it,” said Thoday. “I’m surprised they didn’t [know about Schofield’s affair]. Maybe ITV is such a big business but I think in the end it’s management’s job to know what is going on.”

Sangita Myska, a former BBC news presenter, however, backed ITV. “Even if rumors reach ears how do you go about investigating and substantiating such a rumor?,” she considered.

But she went on to say the issues more generally are “not about the talent but about an abject failure of management in any given situation.” She said the #MeToo movement had been a “gamechanger” in terms of people coming forward with complaints.

Schofield was forced to resign in disgrace around the time ITV rapped James Martin after a bullying complaint on the TV chef’s latest show, while the BBC has been mired in scandal over the Huw Edwards affair, leading to broader questions around how presenters behave when the cameras are off.

Camilla Lewis, who runs Salvage Hunters indie Curve Media, rejected the notion that Ofcom needs powers to take presenters off air, however, instead saying the power needs to lie with management who are “editorailly responsible.”

Locking horns

In a wide-ranging session, Thoday and Lewis locked horns with senior BBC and Channel 4 execs over their business models and relationships with small indies.

Thoday accused the BBC of “using low-cost high-volume daytime commissioning to prove it is doing lots of work with smaller indies,” although he countered: “I’m not being negative and saying it ought to do more.”

Similarly, Curve’s Lewis claimed the BBC is “allowing small indies to subsist” through the practice laid out by Thoday. “Indies will get a one-off documentary and they’ll be holding on and it’s really really difficult,” she added.

Responding, Emma Hindley, who runs storied BBC doc strand Storyville, said the BBC “does more than any other organization to support small indies.”

Thoday also rounded on Channel 4’s Kiran Nataraja, this year’s Edinburgh Advisory Chair, on the broadcaster’s move to forge an in-house production unit, which was rubberstamped by the government after privatisation was canned.

“If Channel 4 goes into production then that is an appalling decision and I am worred about it from the state of new independents who were very supportive of no privatisation,” he added. “I was very disappointed when part of that deal was to start in house. Channeling money away from new or current producers is not a good thing.”

Nataraja responded by saying “we didn’t ask for in house,” calling the question of the broadcaster owning its own IP after 40 years of existence a “complicated one.”

Thoday, however, countered that Channel 4 is the “best place to originate TV shows in the UK,” with the BBC second.

The industry is “in flux because of the amount of money being poured in from streamers, and the broadcasters being scared of that,” Thoday went on to say. “The fairly ordered world of broadcasting is now disordered,” he said.

Lewis also questioned whether broadcaster business models can keep up with tech barons pouring billions into content.

“I was sat opposite a tech baron worth £8B a week ago and they want to buy some content that is with a PSB at the moment,” she added. “When commissioiners don’t take the business side seriously it really matters because the ‘industry outside of the industry’ will cherrypick the best producers and ideas and throw money at them.”

She added that “it is a concerning state of affairs when the power base is not sitting within the neurotic, creative, brilliant commissioning teams that we all work with.”

Panelists also discussed the freelancer crisis, with incoming Film & TV Charity CEO Marcus Ryder urging a change in industry structures to resolve the across-the-board issue, following an 800% rise in applications for grants for financial help.

“Massive structural changes”

“In 2007 the BBC was pushed to invest huge amounts of money in Scotland and we wouldn’t have the industry we currently have if it wasn’t for massive structural changes as to where comissioning power comes from,” said Ryder. “So there are things we need to look at whether that’s Ofcom, the DCMS or BBC as to where we place commissions and how long they take from development to greenlight.”

According to Ryder, the broadcasting system “has the power to not be buffeted by forces of nature” such as the ad slowdown, although Nataraja said there is currently a “disconnect between the ad market and the rest of the economy.”

Storyville’s Hindley said the whole industry can do more to suppoprt freelancers. She floated “wacky ideas” such as bosses paying 1% of their bonuses to the charity’s donation fund, or celebraties giving a day’s earnings. “We work in a well paid industry and are all very close to freelancers,” she added.

According to Myska, some freelancers are earning £120 to £150 per day for an eight hour day and many are not working five day weeks, or have “barely worked in the past year.”

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