Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The promised review of tv licence fee enforcement will report by June 2015, according to terms of reference published by the the DCMS today.

This could be more worrying for the BBC than the Charter Review itself. Decriminalisation looks inevitable, and forecasts of what will happen to evasion under civil penalties are going to be hugely inexact.  There's going to more evasion, of course, and the likely costs of recovering £145.50 in each individual case are never going to make economic sense. It's an easy way for Tories to deliver a smaller BBC. Maybe they won't be in power..

War Horses

Last night's Panorama - the first under Ceri Thomas' substantive editorship - was a difficult watch. An indie production from Jamie Doran's Clover, it used an Afghan journalist to report from "Inside The Taliban".  2.1m (9.1%) watched, according to overnight ratings. That's against an average of 2.3m for Panorama across 2013.

Meanwhile, Newsnight kicked off the week with a worthy but dull report and discussion on the NHS funding shortfall. This follows last week's arcane but "important" discussion on secular stagnation. Newsnight - Anything Can Happen. But perhaps not an improvement in the ratings.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Women of the world

Congratulations to Fran Unsworth (St Dominic's Brewood and Manchester) newly anointed as boss of the BBC World Service Group. In succeeding Peter Horrocks, she retains the role of deputy to James Harding, who has room to give her a £50k pa salary boost to match the Horrocks package.

Harding's new division of responsibilities now has a dominance of women (Fran, Mary Hockaday, Controller of World Service English, and Liliane Landor, running language services) in charge of news output outside the UK. We await with interest the appointment of a Controller 24/7 World, to run the tv channel BBC World and the news bit of bbc.com, reporting to Jon Zilkha. The quartet will have the most specific objective in News - driving the collective audience to 500 million.

Driving digital

The latest offer for online access to Sun+ is priced at £86.60 a year. That's three-fifths of a tv licence fee, and a discount of £9.28 from their standard £7.99 a month.

If you sign up now, you get a free Hudl 1 tablet from Tesco, which the Sun values at £119. Interestingly, Tesco are selling Hudl 1 online for £79. The new Hudl 2 ("bigger, better, faster") is £129.

If you sign up today, you get instant access to the online top story - "Romping outdoors and threesomes are revealed as our top fantasies. To launch The Sun’s Sex Week, YouGov polled 1,689 people to find out what goes on in — or outside — British bedrooms...."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Losing the reins

Last week offered an insight into a mood of panic in the UK's news establishment, much of it based on losing control of video content.

The old regime had already clocked a generation growing up sharing links to short videos - news, music, the bizarre, the funny, and cats - and had presumed that they would still be the principal providers. BBC, ITV and Sky thought the new competition would be newspaper websites, and did various deals to provide them with clips, hoping that their brands would be thus enhanced, and new consumers would find a way back to the original source.

I don't have access to detailed figures, but if you look at YouTube's page of "Popular In The UK Now", there's nothing direct from UK broadcasters or newspapers. There's two from Russell Brand (as I write) and two that feature UK football coverage, but edited and re-posted.

Advertisers have become hyper-excited about pre-roll ads on these short videos, assessing that these are the new favourite ways of idling time at work and on mobiles, and "Total Video Views" are the new Holy Grail of metrics. In the USA, the big players in these field are all new media names.

In UK newspapers wrestling with a video future, The Telegraph Group has effectively given their Yankee digital guru Jason Seiken notice, with a kick upstairs. Chris Evans (not that one) is essentially the new Editor of The Daily Telegraph, and has to work out a new and different digital future, that probably moves away from women with three breasts and car reviews. The Guardian is more successfully engaging with "millenials", especially in America, and has lead the way, with ITV, in "live pages", but there's a question about how long the investment can run without balanced books in sight.

At Sky News, boss John Ryley has announced a live, on-air, month of experimentation in the run-up to Christmas, with two new teams working on "Live News" and "Digital", in a sort of laboratory experiment to try to re-establish Sky News as the place to go for the under-40s. Many think this simply presages a shift of production effort from the channel to the website. Either way, it looks like an uncomfortable couple of weeks for Kay Burley and Jeremy Thompson.

And at the BBC, boss James Harding has put a little more flesh on his exercise looking at "The Future Of News", revealing it's not just him heading to Stanford, but a team. "We are not giving ourselves a great deal of time. Stanford University in California has kindly agreed to host us for two weeks, where we will hold a series of seminars, meet with some of the leading new media businesses, collate the interviews and information we have to date and set out a framework for the Future of News. We will look to draw the ideas together in a first draft by Christmas."

Meanwhile, flying the other way, Comscore are offering help in London.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

News breaker

Ceri Thomas has been confirmed as the new editor of Panorama on BBC1. He's already had an impact as caretaker, with the remaining four staff reporters on notice of redundancy. The period before they physically exit has been extended in negotiations with the unions, so it'll be interesting to see if there's a John Sweeney finale.

Ceri was previously editor of Today on Radio 4, and then Head of News Programmes, but flew even closer to the management uplands during the period of the Pollard Inquiry, acting as a No 2 across the whole of news to Fran Unsworth, before James Harding arrived. He's clearly happier closer to output, and the press notice of his appointment uses the word "investigative" five times. The old regime believe the Panorama audience are in for cheap, run-round-the-houses shows in future - that, or tear-jerking "real-life" stories.  Let's see...

Friday, October 17, 2014


Another vacancy in the BBC World Service portfolio - Chris Westcott, often styled "Dr", has announced he's stepping down as Director of BBC Monitoring at the end of the financial year.

Chris, a former nuclear scientist, has been running the Caversham operation for over ten years, after a BBC career in science broadcasting and the early days of the web at World Service. Before that, he was a research scientist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Harwell laboratory between 1980 and 1989, specialising in materials research and the development of computer-based information systems.

Caversham has been through many changes under the Doctor; some uncomfortable, resulting in tribunals, and new technology has not always delivered what was promised. But, against many people's expectations, the listening post is still there in a licence-fee funded world.

Eminences grises

Refugees from fluffier-by-the-day Newsnight will be interested to note the emergence of a new super-indie, working title (mine) Paxtwistle Productions.

Jeremy Paxman has made a short film for The Art Fund, introducing the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery. Old Newsnight chum George Entwistle has been acting as an executive producer on this sort of video - back in April caught holding the mike for Sir Nicholas Serota in the making of a video on Matisse.

Jezzer has returned the favour by asking that George edits Channel 4's Election Night coverage.

We look forward to an interesting set - George has been studying design history part-time at Oxford University, taking part in a conference on Second World War influences back in September.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


From minutes of the BBC Trust meeting on 17th July this year, just published.

Item 102 involved Tim Davie, BBC Worldwide, David Moody, his Director of Strategy, and Rebecca Hoyle, Controller of Commercial Strategy, as well as Lord Hall, Anne Bulford, Danny Cohen and James Purnell. So it was probably about the BBC Store, selling you your archive online.

BBC Worldwide has just signed a deal with Apigee to provide the engine behind the interface.

Way out

The BBC has signed 481 compromise agreements with departing staff members since 2005, peaking at 77 in 2009/10. The "compromise" is usually that the leaver gets an enhanced pay-off, but is asked to keep quiet about it.

They are now, in HR-speak, called "settlement agreements". The BBC, under Lord Hall, has put a cap on deals at £150k, and central approval is required when the deal is over £75k.

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