A little bit of optimism in the air for media folk

<strong>EMMA KEENS </strong><br />AT THE RTS<br /><br />THE great and the good of the television industry were in a surprisingly upbeat mood yesterday as they gathered for the Royal Television Society Cambridge convention. <br /><br />Surprising when you consider that commercial networks have experienced what ITV chief operating officer John Cresswell described as &ldquo;a dose of recession shock therapy&rdquo;.<br /><br />But you cannot keep a good TV-executive down and Channel Five chief executive Gerhard Zeiler summed up the mood when he said that &ldquo;as long as we do our homework, there is absolutely no reason to be anything but optimistic&rdquo;.<br /><br />For Zeiler, it is not a question of whether advertising will come back &ndash; he believes it will &ndash; nor even when &ndash; he says not any time soon &ndash; but more a question of how the industry adapts for the future. Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson echoed this sentiment, speaking of adapting models, of innovation and of fresh-thinking.<br /><br />But for all the talk, there was a disappointing lack of momentum towards action.<br /><br />Increasingly &ldquo;savage&rdquo; cost-cutting and the clever use of technology was the closest we got from C4&rsquo;s Johnson. Increased consolidation, enabled by relaxed regulation, was RTL&rsquo;s Zeiler&rsquo;s answer, along with, you guessed it, significant cost cutting. How the networks plan to charge for content remained a mystery.<br /><br />But perhaps it was a bit much to expect any of them to have all the answers. ITV could be under the stewardship of ex-BSkyB executive Tony Ball within weeks. Meanwhile, C4 is in the throws of finding replacements for both Johnson and chief executive Andy Duncan. Perhaps now is not the best time to publicly commit to any strategy.<br /><br />Dominating events was the growing spat between the government and the BBC, with a bit of reference to BSkyB chief executive James Murdoch&rsquo;s recent attack on the BBC.<br /><br />But from the ashes of political posturing, one thing became very clear: a failure by the combatants to work together to find out what the licence-payer actually wants has left the arguments of both parties looking self-serving and contrived.<br /><br />It is crucial, if this &ldquo;loud and bad tempered debate&rdquo; (Bradshaw&rsquo;s words, not mine) is ever to produce results, that a truly independent body be appointed to gauge the views of the people both the BBC and the government claim to serve. And, for this particular task, I would argue that the BBC Trust is just not independent enough.