Friday, July 25, 2014

Call for papers

James Harding is playing management hardball at BBC News. Having restructured his top team, four posts have today been formally opened up to internal and external competition, leaving some established figures from the Helen Boaden regime having to apply for posts that look very like the ones they have.

The jobs are Controller, 24/7 and Digital News; Head of Current Affairs; Controller of BBC World Service English; and Controller Daily News Programmes.  For each, candidates are invited to submit their "vision for the department" in no more than 1500 words, to be handed in by August 17th. All four posts are graded SM1 - the top band of BBC pay.

Having a laugh

London Live, the local tv service for London, gets its biggest audiences for repeats of old BBC and ITV programmes. So now it wants to cut its commitment to local programming - pretty savagely. It's asked Ofcom to vary its licence, so that it only needs to provide one hour instead of three in evening peak - 1800-2230 - with no repeat (previously committed at 1.5 hours). The daily total commitment would be unchanged, at 8 hours - but the station wants to drop 10 hours of promised repeats of local programming.

There no statement about what will replace the local shows, but you can take an educated guess..

Slo Mo

The image of Mo Farah has been woven into much of the pre-publicity for the Commonwealth Games - nowhere more so than in BBC trails. The news that Mo's not going came at about 1030 yesterday morning; too late, it seems to enable a review of the trail that preceded the evening's 10 O'Clock News.

There'll be some frantic re-cutting today.


The weather may be too warm for this: an intellectual tit-for-tat about the vadility and long-term prospects of licence-fee funding of the BBC.

Lord Hall and his batman, James Purnell, have so far played the issue fairly cool - the licence-fee system is, they say, pretty good, and with a few tweaks should stay.

The BBC's Director of Public Policy, James Heath, has gone a little further: in a blogpost, he's argued that the licence fee is not just pretty good, it's brilliant, and all other alternatives haven't been thought through and are daft (my precis, not his). This has incurred the wrath of Ryan Bourne, Head of Public Policy at the IEA, with a counter-post that ends "the arguments in favour of the licence fee are weak..the Beeb will have to come up with better".  Mr Heath rejoined battle, with a second blog that starts with lessons from Greek mythology, just to raise the intellectual level and increase the accessibility of the debate. Mr Bourne counters again, with the Aristotelian logic favoured on social media, Twitter.

Where will it end ? What's the form here ? Bourne (Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, Rochester and double first, Magdalene College, Cambridge) supports Derby County and Gillingham, and describes himself as "dry as dust". Heath (York University and three years as a Labour party researcher) boasts two titles on his cv, Director of Public Policy and Controller of Policy and Regulation, but a modest pay package of £89,500 - lower than at least 250 others at Auntie.
  • In other news of deep thinkers, Diane Coyle, thwarted in her bid to step up from Deputy Chair of the BBC Trust, has chosen an interesting book to review today: "Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers". I'm reading nothing into it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Big numbers

Having various predicted global audiences of "up to" and "over" 1 billion, BBC News reports this morning that the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony was watched by an average audience of 7.6m in the UK, peaking at 9.4m.

Say many of us rotated through and out (perhaps offended at product placement for Tunnock's Teacakes, or the general placement of Rod Stewart's voice), then the reach could be 15 million - one in four of the population. Estimates put the population of the Commonwealth at around 2 billion (at least those of tv-watching age). Some catching up around the world needed to deliver half of them...

  • Some other overnight figures: Good Morning Britain 480k versus BBC Breakfast 1.5m; Newsnight 400k v Channel 4 News 400k.

Growth industry

It doesn't, perhaps, come as a surprise that James Harding has to make big cuts now at BBC News, to reach his allotted savings targets.  In the nine months between his arrival, in August last year, and May this year, headcount only fell by 6 out of around 7,500. or around 0.08%, as Harding and his colleagues seemed more intent on recruitment of outsiders than sticking to targets.

Stats supplied in response to a Freedom of Information enquiry show that the number of not-quite-senior-managers-or-are-they at Grade 11 grew by 12, while those at SM2 level fell by 4. And there was one additional SM1 recruit. But who ?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Still no sign of a replacement for Roger Wright, either as Controller of BBC Radio 3 or Director of the Proms. He bowed out after the first night this season - it featured Elgar's biblical oratorio, The Kingdom, probably selected way before he decided to leave Auntie's bosom, so we can't read too much into that.

Edward Blakeman, Proms Editor, is minding the rest of the season. He combines this with the role of Director of Music for St Mary's Church in Wendover, Bucks, where he is also on the committee of Wendover Music. This charity produces an annual season of concerts, of Proms-like ambition - featured artists over the past couple of years: The Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Hough, The Brodsky Quartet and Angela Hewitt.

Roger announced his resignation the day before Bob Shennan was unveiled as the BBC's first Director of Music. Bob's been sharing his musical insights with the Los Angeles Times this week, on the growing popularity of country music worldwide. ...

"It's a phenomenon that probably started half a dozen years ago when Taylor Swift emerged as a major international artist," said Bob Shennan, director of music for three BBC Radio stations. "She came to the U.K. being very much a country artist, then came back and came back and grew a real fan base and now has morphed into the biggest pop act on the planet at the moment."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Completely rendered

The iPlayer is back - and I can therefore point you to last night's ten o'clock bulletin on BBC1. I was alerted to the last piece - starting at 27 minutes - by a distinguished colleague who wrote "Was it news, promo, or, perchance, merely b*llocks ?"

It's possible the item, a preview of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, wiped the entire annual graphics budget in just over three minutes. Sophie Raworth tottered through imaginary landscapes of Pixar-ambition, and I reckon most of the audience won't have listened to a word she was saying. It certainly seemed to amuse Huw. One presumes the planners have one up their sleeve for tonight.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Digital disrupter

Welcome to the BBC, Dharmash Mistry, new non-executive director, soi-disant digital disrupter and venture capitalist. Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford - can't find school - followed by Procter & Gamble (where Tim Davie was a contemporary) and the Boston Consulting Group (one time resting place of James Purnell - also a Gooner). Thence through EMAP, where he says he launched Zoo, to various start-ups like LoveFilm and cushion-floggers ACHICA. A spell with Balderton Capital (who backed Wonga before he arrived), and on to a range of non-exec jobs, including Dixons and Hargreaves Lansdown.

His Twitter feed is largely taken up promoting the racily-named Blow Ltd, purveyors of beauty products, and fast blow-drys, make-up, and painted nails. They have, so far, one branch in Covent Garden, and Dharmash has acquired celebrity endorsements from Lisa Snowdon, Millie Mackintosh, Jameela Jalil and Donna Air. That should add a bit of gravitas to the BBC Boardroom conversation.


Odds and ends from the various bits of the BBC's Annual Reports. Zero points to the English Regions for proof-reading:

We note, on the gender balance front, that of ten Heads of Regional and Local Programmes, only one is a woman.

In Scotland, BBC Alba's mixture of live sport and country & western is growing the audience - but not amongst Gaelic speakers.....

Meanwhile, Radio nan Gaidheal's cost per listener hour has gone up from 18.6p to 19.6p. Another riser in cost per user hour - CBBC, up from 11.1p, to 15.4p.

BBC1 in Scotland is more popular, just, than BBC1 measured across the whole UK.

The BBC spent £2.6m more on Finance & Operations than in did in the previous financial year; and £3.2m more on Marketing, Audiences and Communication.

Spend on external programme facilities and resources has gone up by £15m, to £257m p.a. (The Television Centre to Elstree effect ?)

Tim Davie's pay package as Chief Executive of Worldwide is a healthy £670k, though not in the same league as the man he replaced, John Smith.

Other people who read this.......