Friday, March 6, 2015

Our Kath

What do we know of Katharine Viner, the internal candidate voted through to interview stage as potential Guardian editor, in hustings run with the National Union of Journalists ?

She went to Ripon Grammar School, where, at 16, she bemoaned missing out on a chance to appear in a video for The Smiths' single, Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before. This featured Smiths fans wearing horn-rimmed glasses cycling round the streets of Salford behind their hero. Musical taste clearly didn't prevent her progress - she moved up to Head Girl, and represented the school in debating competitions, before going up to Pembroke College, Oxford, to read English.

Just before graduating, she won a competition to edit the Women's Pages of The Guardian, and decided journalism would be her career. She worked at Cosmopolitan, and then The Sunday Times (interviewing Andre Agassi and filing on the New Orleans' Mardi Gras) before rejoining The Guardian full-time in 1997, at the age of 26.

In her own time, she'd become fascinated by the Middle East, and spent most of her holidays in places like Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the West Bank; her brother joshed she'd become a "trauma tourist".

Hackery and the Middle East came together with the story of Rachel Corrie, the US activist killed by a bulldozer when trying to act as a human shield in the Gaza Strip. The Guardian published some of her emails back home, shortly after her death in 2003; Alan Rickman read them, took the idea of a play to the Royal Court, and Katharine became Alan's co-writer for "My Name Is Rachel Corrie", shaping other letters and emails supplied by the Corrie family. Katharine is still on the council of the Royal Court.

Katharine has worked for the Guardian in Australia and New York.  Her Twitter comments suggest an admiration for Idris Elba, a love of some sports as a spectator, and a fondness for the Yorkshire Dales. She still likes The Smiths.

How To Sell Theatre Tickets

The Today programme "nug" (plug masquerading as news) for Mel Brooks' one night stand in London seems to have worked.

The cheapest seats (starting at £74.75) have all gone. There are a few left at £181.25, £262.25 and £502.25. All including booking fee.

Pray silence

Court 15 of the Rolls Building off Fetter Lane resumes this morning, on the fifth day of the civil case Various Claimants v MGN Ltd, in front of Mr Justice Mann (aka Sir George Antony Mann - The Perse School and St Peter's Oxford). The trial is down for ten days in total.

Seats may be difficult to secure, after continuing case-making by David Sherborne, QC, on behalf of eight people seeking damages for having their phones hacked. Mr Sherborne says, in Mr Yentob's case, the journalists were after an incorrect story - that Ruth Rogers, now styled Lady Rogers, wife of architect Lord Rogers of Riverside, and co-owner of the Riverside Cafe in West London, was Alan's mistress. This was "false and deeply intrusive", "nonsense", and would have had "an appalling and catastrophic effect" on their respective families.

Mr Sherborne said Mr Yentob's message inbox was an "Aladdin's Cave". Alan is expected in the witness stand today. Mr Sherborne may ensure his shirt's properly tucked in.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

That's Life

Prolific North has a wee scoop - YourTV Manchester and YourTV Blackpool & Preston are being rebranded as That’s Manchester and That’s Lancashire. The YourTV group, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, had failed to raise sufficient funding on its own, and hadn't actually hired any staff by their Ofcom on-air deadlines last month - now some ads are running.

YourTV will apparently retain a small shareholding in the new channels and remains the official licence-holder, but control of the channels now lies with That’s TV, which already has licences for Oxford, the Solent, Basingstoke, Reading, Surrey and Salisbury. That's TV is run by Six TV, in turn owned by That's Media, under CEO Daniel Cass, and with Esther Rantzen among the shareholders.

That's Consolidation, before we've even really started.

Nashville cats

They're easing into chiselled boots, rhinestone-fringed jackets and spotted 'kerchiefs at the BBC's (Country &) Western House, as their pop-up DAB yee-haw station gets on air at  noon today.

It runs alongside the Country to Country Festival at the O2. Taking part, though not headlining, are British Home Counties duo The Shires, and they're pretty excited too.

"The Shires are on course to become the first British country band to hit the UK Official Albums Chart Top 20, it has been confirmed today. They released their debut album ‘Brave’ on Monday and it has immediately shot to Number 9 in today’s Official UK Albums Update

Director of BBC Music and Country Music Association board member, Bob Shennan, comments: “From the very first play, The Shires have proved to be a class act. They also prove that a British artist can create authentic country music – and the fact that BBC Music has supported them via BBC Introducing and now Radio 2 is testament to their obvious talent and songwriting ability. We hope they can take Nashville by storm !”

The Shires are signed to Decca, part of the Universal Music Group. 6 of the 8 headline acts at the festival are on labels owned or distributed by UMG, which also has three Nashville-based artists on current Radio 2 playlists.


Here's a sort of spread bet. The BBC will start its next Charter with a new Chair and its first Chief Executive Officer (Danny Cohen, if wiser heads can get him off Twitter).

The business brain of Rona Fairhead has had five months to assess Auntie's governance structures, and yesterday rolled a hand grenade around the corridors of 180 Great Portland Street, where resides the BBC Trust, the unhappy 2006 creation of Michael Grade and Tessa Jowell. Unimpressed by the unwieldy assembly of Statements of Programme Promises, Service Licence Remits, Frameworks, Public Value Tests, Major Risk Analysis, etc, curated by Kroll and minded by Zeff, she says leave most of the BBC to a unitary board - and regulate it somewhere else.

That somewhere else is undefined. The Trust was born out of a fear of Ofcom, and what Ed Richards might do to Auntie. There's no current reason to fear the next Ofcom boss, Sharon White, and it would be easier to amend Ofcom's board structure to cope with the wider remit than start another quango. The current way - the BBC doing pretty much what it wants in the media landscape, constrained only by income and fear of Fleet Street, and Ofcom regulating what's left - has to change.

Easier doesn't mean better. And the big risk in all this is moving the principle control of the BBC to a model used by business, where the driver everyone knows and understands is the bottom line. We have whiffs of this already, in the move to BBC Studios. The new online portal will be called BBC Store, not BBC Library.  The old BBC, with its civil service/university management structure, is unloved by those who like making money. They hate its pay grades, training costs, employment codes, career commitments and the rest. And, in the end, they can't see the point of five orchestras, Radio 3, new writing, difficult opinion pieces, daytime shows that educate.  Someone has to define what will drive a unitary board to keep the BBC special.

The Trust will be remembered for saving 6Music and not spotting DMI. It might save BBC3. Would a unitary board do that ?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Shake that money maker

Lines from ITV's press release about its 2014 Annual Report.

ITV Studios revenue up 9% to £933 million (2013: £857 million)
ITV Studios EBITA up 22% to £162 million (2013: £133 million)
ITV Studios is now a global player of scale with 3 further international acquisitions in 2014
ITV Studios again expected to deliver around £100 million revenue growth on a constant currency basis in 2015 with a return to good organic growth

Can't think what's really driving the move to BBC Studios....

Call for Phil and Kirstie

I can find little "new" news in the review of BBC talent pay, conducted for the BBC Trust by their favoured boutique media consultancy, Oliver & Ohlbaum. It may be in the full report - there are 14 occurrences of a scissors symbol, which I take to mean information redacted.

The figures on current deals are from the 2013/14 Annual Report. O&O say some of the reduction in direct talent pay is because the BBC is making fewer programmes for itself; and some is due to churn and driving harder bargains. It was allowed to track the process of 15 deals made, and found that only two were settled for less than the BBC negotiator had in his/her suitcase.  In terms of very top talent, it said some of the "business cases" behind the contract were lacking in detail. The harder deals are being made with people on less than £100k - the sadly-named "Non-top talent".

There's brief mention of deals in news and radio, where some competitors cried foul - News said it used Towers-Watson benchmarking (so that's all good then ?) ands radio said its DJs were more knowledgeable and had to use more words than their commercial competitors (they'll like that). Fans of simpler management structures will be delighted to know that the Pan-BBC Talent Steering Group has had its remit refreshed.

O&O say Auntie doesn't always assess all the benefits of a BBC contract to talent. Perhaps this is a reference to the amount of lager that Danny Dyer consumes on the EastEnders set.

  • Will there be sufficient nuggets in the report to maintain the interest of delegates to the Oxford Media Convention this afternoon, for Rona Fairhead's session ?  Or will the real sparks come when Rona faces Ol Ma Hodge at the Public Accounts Committee next Monday, in her role as a non-executive director of HSBC ?

Wigging out

Barrister-to-the-stars David Sherborne opened a civil case against Mirror Group Newspapers over phone-hacking yesterday, and made claims that Alan Yentob's mobile had been called 330 times from Mirror landlines between 2002 and 2005.  This was the period when Alan started presenting Imagine, alongside his management duties in television.

Mr Sherborne, who has previously acted for Diana, Princess of Wales, The Spice Girls, Max Mosley, Ashley Cole, Tony Blair, Peter Andre and Mick Jagger, also provided the court with documents claiming Mr Yentob was "intensely hacked" from mid-1999, when Al was Director of Television. That year, he was one of several internal candidates seeking to succeed John Birt as Director General - others included Tony Hall, Patricia Hodgson, Andrew Neil, Will Hutton and Mark Byford. (Where are they now, I wonder ? The job went to Greg Dyke.)

Mr Sherborne's opener referred to witness statements from former Mirror business hack James Hipwell, who said showbiz journalists would sing the Goons' Ying Tong Song, when dialling through to Mr Yentob's message box.  Mr Hipwell has previously claimed that there was "no doubt" Mirror editor Piers Morgan knew hacking was going on.

Previous settlements agreed by MGN to drop phone-hacking cases have run from £15k to £30k. I wonder what Mr Sherborne's target is for Al.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bits and bobs

If you find your BBC radio listening on DAB "degraded" from Thursday to Sunday, the BBC has been explaining its Radio 2 Country pop-up station to US radio guru Larry Gifford. 

 “We take bandwidth from lots of other radio stations in and around the BBC; other digital stations. And take some of that bit rate and compile that to allow us enough bandwidth to be able to broadcast that station..... So, things like Radio 4 which broadcasts on long wave on digital radio — that goes away for few days. We’ll degrade a couple of the other stations a little bit to allow us to broadcast. And that gives us enough over four days to power our radio station. So it appears on digital radio, you will be able to hear it on the iPlayer radio app and also on the UK Radio Player app.”

Comments are welcome. Yee-haw, as I believe they say around Western House...

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