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.

Evan's above

After six years of early starts, Evan Davis is quitting the Today programme on Radio 4, for the late nights of Newsnight. He was cajoled into radio at Today during the summer of 2007, for a try-out under the then editor Ceri Thomas. He'd established himself as economics editor for BBC News since 2001, when he replaced the much-less-accessible-indeed-barely-heard-or-seen Peter Jay. That was a promotion from the role of Newsnight economics editor, which Evan had held from 1997.

How many nights will be the question rebounding around the Newsnight open plan area ? How much room for Kirsty Wark, Laura Kuenssberg and Emily Maitlis ?

And Jamie Angus, at Today, will not be short of volunteers to fill Evan's locker on the third floor of Broadcasting House.
  • The (breached) embargo of Evan's appointment to Newsnight was strangely syncrhonised to coincide with the publication of the BBC's Annual Report. Last year's appointment of Mishal Husain to the Today team coincided, spookily, with the publication of the 2012/3 report.

The Byford Voice

It's festival time this summer for more than one member of the Byford family. Tickets are still available to hear former BBC DDG Mark discuss "A Name On A Wall" at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, in a session chaired by Ming Campbell.

Meanwhile his brother, who has shunned the family name for the more enigmatic moniker, Heath Common, is promoting his latest LP, "The Dream of Miss Dee", recorded with Carol Grimes, at the 2014 Musicport Festival in Whitby in October. Heath, a singer/songwriter/poet and performance artist, has settled in Scarborough, after paying his dues in New York . Described by his record label as "The English Tom Waits", tracks have been played by Tom Robinson on 6Music. Sample more here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good ideas

Here's a bit lifted from a Guardian blog written by Sir John Tusa, former Newsnight presenter, World Service boss, and big cheese at the Barbican and other arts organisations. He commends a range of Lord Hall's initiatives designed to drive towards Charter renewal for the BBC, but thinks more could be done...

There are still signs that it is an anxious organisation internally, beset by processes, mired in meetings, laden with permissions. How might it be freed to be and appear the hugely innovatory creative organisation it really is that will win and deserve charter renewal ? 

Such a liberation would involve a transformation of attitudes the BBC expects of itself and its staff. It would include restoring the notion of trust in its working relations rather than the demands of accountability. It would insist on programmes as programmes, not products or “units of resource” bundled up as programmes. It would rely on ideas as the yardstick for accepting programmes instead of judging them by genres, categories or quotas. It would replace repetition and formulae – however successful – as the impulse for programmes with plain “ideas”. It would demand “originality” in programmes, replacing the bureaucratic notion of ”distinctiveness”. 

It would restore belief in audiences as listeners, viewers, even participants, and stop regarding them as customers and consumers, the concepts of marketing. The BBC would have ambitions not targets, a sense of purpose not a list of objectives. The BBC should ask staff to take responsibility not take refuge in compliance, use judgment in decision-making rather than risk analysis, and cling to quality over benchmarking.

Hope they read the whole piece at The BBC Trust.


Here's an interesting precedent - the BBC has released the performance ratings given to managers in appraisals in 2011 and 2012.  It says figures for 2013 are not available - that year the focus was "on the quality of the conversation and less on form-filling". 2014 appraisals are not finished, but presumably the BBC can make no objection to future FoI requests for the details.

In 2011, 15 of the highest-paid managers were damned with faint praise - "usually meets" the required level of performance. In 2012, the number of managers judged to have "inconsistent performance" is redacted, because the nunmber is so small, someone might work out who they are. And there were no managers marked out for "unacceptable performance", in a population of over 550 - yeah, right, as I believe the young folk say. Anyone remember anything difficult happening at Auntie during 2012 ?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Babies and bathwater 3

In James Harding's re-structuring of BBC News, there's a new department to be called 24/7 News. (And, where I previously stated otherwise, I understand there'll be internal competition for the new job of Controller)

However, elsewhere in his plans, there's a different approach to this brave new 24/7 world. 5Live is already having to repeat material overnight; there'll be a reduction of the number of subs working on domestic and world radio news bulletins overnight (tricky on nights that bring moving stories in Ukraine and Gaza); and there'll be no UK-based correspondent/reporter to cover breaking stories at night - the role is down-graded to a new Grade 8/9 reporter specification, supplemented by attachees and casuals.  There'd be no point merging the teams producing Newshour and The World Tonight if it didn't produced savings in late night broadcasting.

And, after throwing the doors open in various unusual ways for new tv reporting staff from other organisations right around BBC News, the existing group of BBC general correspondents (and some others) have been told they have to apply for their own jobs, with the end result of ten posts closing. Maybe they'll be interviewed - if the current management remember how that works.

The all-new one-presenter News Channel will have dedicated access to only one of the survivors, rather than the lot. Still, with World taking the schedule from midnight, and between 8pm and 9pm, maybe that's all 24/7 domestic viewers need.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Grated carrots

The hot weather, and a fear of repeats replacing the Commonwealth Games Opening ceremony, have produced some carrots from Anne Bulford's back pocket. They, and the promise of a 2.5% rise in August next year have averted the planned BBC strike next Wednesday.

The existing offer, to be implemented on 1st August this year is largely unimproved - but in January everyone gets an extra £150 consolidated into their salary. DG Tony Hall has also agreed to talk about perceived discrepancies in pay for World Service and Monitoring staff; and a niggle about when staged pay rises for individuals are implemented has been removed, with an agreement that they'll come on the anniversary of the job starting, not the 1st of August.

The offer will be put to members, with no recommendation either way from the unions, in electronic ballots which will close on August 5th. The Commonwealth Games finish on August 3rd.

  • A Government-produced average of independent forecasts suggests RPI will be running at 3.3% in 2015, with CPI at 2.1%.

Babies and bathwater 2

Innovators are always at risk of being replaced. New bosses prefer their own innovations, not those of previous top dogs.

But another effect of James Harding's reshaping of BBC News is to lose the expertise of people who've pioneered "new" ways of reaching audiences. So the team who battered the 60 Seconds news bulletins on to the air for BBC3 are to go. (Maybe it would be wise to hang on, at least, for the Trust decision on the channel's linear future...?).

The motley group of old hands, fresh faces and attachees who brought World Have Your Say to World Service radio (and tv) are also to be disbanded, after nine years. The cumbersome title (a legacy of Mark Byford and his one-brand obsession) concealed a daily show that was much more than a phone-in. It invited those dangerous, uneducated beasts, the audience, to shape the agenda, even to host editions. People who thought news broadcasting was meant to teach the audience a thing or two, not the other way round, derided it as World Shut Yer Face.  Along the way, it developed a new talented bunch of presenters. Bosses say more programmes have engaged with social media, so the network can move on. If by that, they mean programmes that say "Get in touch, by text, mail, Twitter or Facebook, and we'll read out one of your comments if we're under-running", then they simply don't understand audience engagement.

It would be an awful thing, wouldn't it, if the decision was driven by US stations opting not to re-broadcast, because the topics and accents were uncomfortable ? The chase for a 500m audience in Global News decided on one continent ?

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