Sunday, May 1, 2016

How very dare you

By Whittingdale Rules, last night's BBC1 schedule would have looked very different, according to the overnight ratings. Pointless Celebrities would have been shifted, as it beat ITV's You've Been Framed. Michael McIntyre would have been nixed, as he beat Bang On The Money. Casualty and Mrs Brown's Boys would not have been tolerated, for beating Play to The Whistle.

Safe word needed

It's still not clear where or when John Whittingdale first got interested in bondage and humiliation, but it seems he's resolutely determined to apply a clamp to the BBC's private parts.

Perhaps it's displacement activity, having been warned off further use of the top-slicing paddles on already-raw buttocks, by BBC paddler-in-chief, wild-eyed George Osborne. But the idea that Auntie should be a broadcaster during the week, and a narrowcaster at weekends, to allow commercial rivals to drive more revenue from bigger audiences, has appeared in a range of Sunday papers, almost as if there had been a briefing.

And The Mail On Sunday chose it as their front page lead. Interestingly, it was theirs in time to construct an editorial, in which they say the Whittingdale ruse should be "tried out for a limited period to see if it works in practice. The law of unintended consequences always applies to untested ideas, and good intentions do not always produce good results."

The Telegraph has been briefed that the BBC's bulletin at ten o'clock on weekdays (regular audience above 4m) must be moved out of the way of ITV News At Ten (regular audience around 1.5m). Further, says the Telegraph, whilst there may be an 11-year-Charter coming in the White Paper (set aside May 12), Whittingdale wants a review of the BBC's portfolio of channels after five years. With one fell swoop, he's re-instated the political and financial uncertainty the BBC has been lobbying so hard to end in this campaign (it's clearly no longer a negotiation).

Mr Whittingdale, who seems understand 'public consultation' as conversations with Rupert, Ashley Highfield and The Radio Centre, may now survive as Culture Secretary until the Charter is delivered - a Charter which will enable the later dismantling of the finest public service broadcasting organisation in the world. Rise up, UK and give the egregious oik a Twitter earful.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Be safe

In the world of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, the closing of the so-called iPlayer loophole may be another chance for Whittingdale, J to bring i his free-market thinking to bear on wussy old Auntie.

As we've said before here, loophole closing is a tricky business, unless you're prepared to give some bank details and/or proof of purchase of a tv licence.

Meanwhile Mr Whittingdale has been learning about online safety, and perhaps how to distinguish between Russian arms dealers, dominatrices and others pretending to be something they are not on


Well done to all for a new record global audience figure for the BBC - now claimed at 348m, up from last year's 308m. 28 million comes from BBC Worldwide's efforts beyond news, with the total figure now covering "the combined measured reach of international content, both news and entertainment"; that's up from 25 million last year, a rise of 12%.

The 'news' bit includes figures from BBC World Service, BBC World News, and BBC Media Action, and they're up 13%. Boss Fran Unsworth puts most of this down to new tv bulletins, streamed or online, in languages other than English. But, hearteningly, the BBC World Service in English is also up from 52m to 66m, up 15%, which ain't bad for the old dinosaur.

Overall, the BBC claims a weekly reach of 35m in the USA.  It would be interesting to know if this includes audiences for BBC America, fed a relentless diet of Star Trek and foul-mouth Gordon Ramsay. And one day, BBC World News, helping democratic deficits around the world, will reveal both audience figures and balance sheets for its efforts in the States...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Commercial pressure

If this turns out to be the birthday of BBC Studios, I'll get my grump out of the way before the party.

I've no objection, within bounds, to the BBC re-organising the way it groups various departments. But the stated trajectory of BBC Studios is, within a year or so, to be a commercial subsidiary. For me, this will lead inevitably if slowly, to a small core of directly-employed 'talent' - big ideas strategists, directors and showrunners, at pay levels set away from Freedom of Information rules - and the gradual casualisation of the rest of the workforce, hired on fixed term contracts once commissions are assured.

People inside and outside the BBC fought hard to end the culture of repeated three-month-to-one-year contracts for those trying to make the break in tv production, compelling lazy and mean managers to convert them to 'staff' jobs after two years' worth of end-to-end contracts. Short-term contracts help avoid the payment of all sorts of employee benefits available to staff.  You don't have to 'manage' people on short-term contracts - just tell them there's no more work, whether there is or not.

This way of working discriminates against those without private or family support; it's much harder to build a career, and much harder acquire training, other than on-the-job. I suspect it'll work against diversity on many levels, though would love to be proved wrong.

It will also stop one of the great assets that the BBC has - the ability to develop and nurture its own talent through moving around various departments, right across the old divisions of News, Radio and Television, around the UK and sometimes abroad. This was the system that brought you Mark Thompson, Alan Yentob, Jana Bennett, Peter Salmon, Lorraine Heggessey, John Lloyd, Stuart Prebble, Alasdair Milne, John Drummond and many more. Not all rounded human beings, I grant you, but not a bad record.


Congratulations to Debbie Ramsay, new Editor of the BBC's Newsbeat team, providing multi-media services to the nation's yoof. She's been acting in the role for over six months, while previous incumbent Louisa Compton nurses the Victoria Derbyshire programme on the News Channel and BBC2. Debbie is a graduate of the University of Central Lancashire, and worked at Capital before joining Auntie in 2006.

Meanwhile at Today there's apparently joyous flouting of the 'external recruitment freeze' agreed with the unions, in the appointment of Dominic O'Connell (BA and Diploma in Journalism, University of Canterbury, NZ), from the Sunday Times, to cover the business beat in the wake of the elevation of Simon Jack. Remind me, how many staff are there in the BBC's Business and Economics Unit ? None of them good enough ?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Comic Timing

The BBC has lost another suit in the transition to BBC Studios. Mark Freeland, occasionally mistakenly identified as Kelsey Grammar by taxi drivers, has decided to pass on the opportunity to be the new division's first "Director of Scripted", (another in a continuing line of poor titles where people apparently run adjectives).

To make it worse, he's quoted in Broadcast saying changes to the new division being made by new boss Mark Linsey will  “not give me the creative platform I need to be at my very best and add maximum value to the Studios project.

“The highest standards of creativity and value amount to a position of personal integrity to me. Those of you who know me, will appreciate that creativity - being close to production and talent - is absolutely central to the way I operate.”

He's probably ahead of many staff in knowing very much at all about BBC Studios, due to be launched tomorrow. He was in at the start with Nathalie Humphreys back in December 2014, when the project was codenamed NewCo.

Mark has had a hand in Miranda, Mrs Brown's Boys, The Thick of It, Citizen Khan, The Wrong Mans, and The Mighty Boosh. He was head of original programmes at Sky from 1997 to 2002, before he joined Auntie as Head of Comedy Commissioning, then, from 2005 to 2007 he had a spell at Beryl Vertue's Hartswood Films, before a return to the bosom of the BBC. His redundancy, on a current package of £234,800, will help as he hunts for a new berth.


Twitter seems to have leaked the new logo for Peston On Sunday, which starts on ITV on Sunday 8 May at 1000am. Ex-beeboid Allegra Strattron is billed as a regular contributor, and ex-beeboid Vicky Flind produces.

Commissioning editor is ex-beeboid Tom Giles. The whole is produced by Shiver, the factual part of ITV Studios.

Don't know

The BBC's stuttering Charter Renewal matrix (check against delivery) today gives us another look at new 2020 Diversity targets, to prove that BBC Management is more right on than Ed 'Mr Piano' Vaizey at the DCMS thinks it is.

The one that's a bit of a puzzle is the 8% LGBT staff and on-air portrayal target. Target implies some sort of stretch, and, sort of instinctively, many insiders would say Auntie was well ahead in terms of employment.

New joiners were first invited to declare their sexual orientation and religious beliefs in anonymous diversity monitoring forms from 2010. In 2011, there was a voluntary staff survey, and just over 50% of employees took part. Of those, 48.6% said they were heterosexual/straight, 5% preferred not to say, and a whopping 42% opted for the rather unhelpful 'unknown'.

What's mine is yours

"And this autumn, we will launch a new personalised app that aims to ensure we bring you something brilliant from the BBC every time you open it up."

Thus spake jovial Phil Fearnley, leader of myBBC, in March last year. I can't find such an app on Google Play.

myBBC was on the agenda at the March 2016 meeting of the BBC Executive. The minute simply notes "This item provided an update on the progress made by myBBC and outlined what will be delivered in the final year of the programme."

There are currently eight vacancies tagged 'myBBC' on the BBC Careers website (there may be more internally). They are titled Senior Privacy Specialist, Senior Data Governance Specialist, Junior Data Governance Specialist, Junior Privacy Specialist, Senior Java Developer, Technical Project Manager, Data Analyst, and last, but perhaps not least, Business Analyst.  This may give a flavour of the issues facing Mr Fearnley.

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