ITV Content Boss Kevin Lygo has become the first senior ITV exec to respond to Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial Meghan Markle column, branding the article “awful” but stating he will keep his job as host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.
Clarkson’s article “did not represent our values,” Lygo told journalists at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch yesterday afternoon, adding: “It was awful and he has acknowledged that. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Friday’s Sun column, which said Markle should be “made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds throw lumps of excrement at her,” is UK press regulator IPSO’s most complained about article of all time with more than 20,000, and Rupert Murdoch’s paper has since retracted the piece while Clarkson said he was “horrified to have caused so much hurt.”
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Meanwhile, Scottish MP John Nicolson wrote to ITV CEO Carolyn McCall urging her to ask Clarkson, who has presented Who Wants to be a Millionaire? for five years, to stand down.
McCall is yet to respond but Lygo said Clarkson will continue presenting the format.
“What [Clarkson] writes in a newspaper column is really more for [the press] to talk about than us,” said Lygo. “We have no control over what he says and hire him as a consummate broadcaster of the most famous quiz on TV.”
One ITV presenter who the pubcaster’s execs may be having a word with is Gary Neville, the ITV World Cup football pundit who was criticized for a World Cup final rant in which he compared workers’ rights in Qatar – where thousands of migrants are reported to have died building stadiums – to the “demonization” of public sector workers in the UK. The comments have been condemned by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak amongst others.
“We would have a word with him about not doing that again but at the moment he’s not part of our regular presenting team [beyond the World Cup],” Lygo said. “Would we hire him again? It depends on the circumstances.”
Lygo rejected the notion that ITV will need to be more careful when engaging presenters, given the Clarkson and Neville incidents plus Piers Morgan’s Meghan Markle rant that led to his Good Morning Britain resignation last year.
“There are 30 presenters on ITV every day and occasionally one steps over the mark,” he added, responding to a question from Deadline. “Jeremy’s incident didn’t happen on ITV and Piers’ was two years ago – and he resigned amicably rather than being fired. We don’t want people ranting and raving and so forth but on live TV people occasionally slightly lose the plot.”
Markle’s husband Prince Harry, who has attracted plenty of headlines since the launch of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan doc, will feature in a rare in-person interview with ITV anchor Tom Bradby but Lygo wouldn’t be drawn on whether the former Suits actress will also feature in the interview that will be used to promote Prince Harry’s upcoming memoir, Spare.
Lygo was promoting new free streamer ITVX, which the broadcaster’s data revealed attracted a 138% increase in week-on-week viewers in its first seven days compared to last year, driven by World Cup football, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Damian Lewis drama A Spy Among Friends.
He said the £160M ($194M) streamer could draw in more advertising money than linear due to its ability to be targeted. “Because you can be more efficient with advertising it should be more profitable. It’s early days yet but that is the theory.”
Lygo stressed the pubcaster is “in great financial shape” in spite of a significant spend on ITVX.
He stressed that linear programing is still a priority and questioned BBC Director General Tim Davie’s proclamation from earlier this month that TV will be internet-only within a decade.
“I’m not sure [linear] need ever stop,” said Lygo. “America has always been ahead of the game on this and linear is still perfectly strong over there. We are transmitting our programing in lots of different ways and have a bigger challenge than the BBC because we have to make money out of advertising.”
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