Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lean over ?

We need more detail to see what Lord Hall proposes before passing judgement on today's new round of BBC cuts. 1,000 jobs (from an estimated 16,000) is a 6% cut. Yet it only "saves" £50m, of an announced 2016/17 shortfall of £150m. And a tiny drop of the BBC's £3bn+ income.

It's £50k per job lost - presumably low because of the redundancy costs. And £100m still to find, presumably in scope cuts which will have to come out before the end of July.

The move to reduce grades to a maximum of seven is brave; all previous attempts on this front have failed. What will the unions say this time ? It can't be cost neutral if it's part of a savings package.

Nice one, Sharon

The latest big Ofcom review of public service broadcasting, published today, officially ducks the future of the BBC and Charter Renewal, thus...

Deciding the role of the BBC through the forthcoming Charter Review process will be critical, because significant changes in the scope or nature of the output of the BBC could have a material impact on the delivery of the PSB outcomes set by Parliament. However, we have not, in the course of this review, conducted a detailed analysis of the BBC’s ability to maximise its commercial revenues, realise further efficiencies or refocus its activity to provide greater value for money. That is a matter for Charter Review.

Indeed, the whole 32-page document is cautious about any form of prediction. However, there's plenty of comfort for the BBC team locked down in the Charter Bunker.

Below, I've filleted bits of interest. Remember, PSB means BBC, Channel 4 Corporation (C4C), the Channel 3 licensees – ITV, STV and UTV – and Channel 5. BBC Alba and S4C provide Gaelic and Welsh-language channels. All BBC services are PSB; only the main channels of the others are PSB
  • The BBC remains the cornerstone of the PSB system and is the key driver of investment across the system. Our most recent figures for total spend (including sport), show that the public service broadcasters spent £2.5bn in 2014 on new UK original content, with the BBC accounting for just over half of this (£1.27bn). ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 contributed the rest (£1.25bn). 
  • There is minimal provision in some genres: following the removal of specific quotas in 2003, PSB provision in arts and classical music, religion and ethics, and formal education has significantly reduced. In children’s content, there is very limited provision of non-animation programming beyond the BBC 
  • Public service broadcasters will need freedom to continue to innovate, as audiences increasingly want content that is delivered over multiple devices and specifically designed for the internet environment. 
  • PSB broadcasters have shifted investment towards cheaper genres over the review period (e.g. replacing drama with relatively cheaper entertainment programmes) and they have also reduced spend outside evening peak time. It is estimated that these shifts resulted in reduced PSB spend on new UK programmes of around £101m, in cash terms, between 2007 and 2013. 
  • There was significant concern raised during our consultation about this consolidation in the indie sector: of the top seven UK producers, accounting for around £1bn of UK revenue, six are now owned by large foreign media companies.
  • We are seeing falling investment in drama and comedy: the PSB system continues to deliver high-profile, big-budget dramas, such as Sherlock, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey. These are successful both in the UK and abroad, with audience appreciation rising. However, they mask substantial falls in first-run UK originations spend in real terms by the PSBs (down 44% since 200824); in the corresponding hours of new UK output (down 41% from 627 to 371 hours in 2014) and in viewing figures for UK drama on the main five channels (down by 27%25). ITV, in particular, has taken a big step back from the genre, reducing its hours of output by 65%, while the volume of multichannel output in drama remains low, despite gaining a high profile. 
  • Among all UK adults, 69% of viewing is to live TV. However, the share of viewing to live TV among 16-24s drops to 50%, and to 61% for 25-34s. 
  • The licence fee model, if amended to apply to non-linear consumption, could preserve the BBC’s position at the centre of the PSB system.
  • Under more radical scenarios, where nearer 50% of viewing shifts to online/IP platforms, we could see total distribution costs rise by around £100m by 2024. 
  • Given its scale and security of funding, the BBC is likely to be the most proactive in driving changes in audience behaviour through the services that if offers and the most robust in the face of unforeseen shocks, depending on the level, nature and terms of the next Charter Review
  • Our review has highlighted a number of areas in which we recognise that increased delivery would be desirable, including news, with the need to improve reach and impact for young people, drama (particularly on ITV), programming for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the English regions, and children’s programming beyond the BBC.


According to Broadcast, the field is narrowing for job of running putative-floating-super-indie BBC Studios - with candidates falling left right and centre, and Peter Salmon, King of The North and Director BBC England, still standing.

Peter, who bestrides Twickenham and Salford Quays, remains on an excellent existing staff package of £387,900 - higher than all members of the BBC Executive save Lord Hall and Anne Bulford  And, of course Tim Davie, running BBC Worldwide, whose package last year totalled £670k.

Can Peter see a way to improve his deal, frozen since 2009, when and if the Studios are cut free from Auntie's trammels of transparency and comparison ?  And can Lord Hall and McKinsey see a cheaper, simpler way of running England-outside-the-M25 ? What will we learn today ?

They know best

"Our job is to get the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers." That mission, for the not-long-for-this-life BBC Trust, is not quite the same as doing what the licence fee payers want.

This was entertainingly demonstrated on yesterday's Media Show on Radio 4, when presenter Steve Hewlett quizzed Trustee Richard Ayre about the decision to accept the ending of BBC3 as a broadcast service, and reject the Executive's plans for a BBC+1 services. The evidence in front of the Trust, from a generously-sized survey of licence-fee payers, was that they wanted the opposite result. So there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

That's summer sorted...

After a draining round of interviews promoting his book, Getting Out Alive, former BBC Editorial Director Roger Mosey heads out to tour North America, and, hey, might even, his book.

The Master of Selwyn College is accompanying (in a travel sense) the college choir to Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver at the end of this month.  For just $12, you get music, "a drinks reception and short talk by the Master, who will discuss his time as Editorial Director of the BBC and share the latest news from Collegiate Cambridge."

Ramped up

The BBC Radio Theatre, the DG and Controller R4 Gwyneth Williams were all got up equally sparkly for Monday evening's launch of the 'new season' on Radio 4. Guests noted that a generous ramp had been set up leading to the stage - sadly the star of the show, Reith Lecturer 2015 Professor Stephen Hawking, was in the end unable to attend.  For those who can't use stairs, normal access to the stage is by a small hydraulic lift.

Prof Hawking's absence seems to have left the BBC Press Office with a dilemma; they chose to top their release with a shot of Andrew Marr - though there's no sign in the text of anything 'new' from him. Indeed, only last week, BBC Radio boss Helen Boaden revealed "only 10 percent of our radio schedules change each year".

One other headliner in this new season is Glenda Jackson, who will star as 104-year-old Adelaide Fouque in an new take on Emile Zola's novels. Glenda last acted for BBC microphones in 1978, in a radio adaptation of Hugh Whitemore's film, also starring Glenda, about Stevie Smith. It was commissioned in the World Service but also ran on Radio 4.

Glenda was also a regular voice on Radio 4 panel shows and appeals, but I can find only one other drama booking - for an afternoon theatre of 1969 - the year before she filmed "Women in Love". It was "The Road From Ruin", by Frederic Benedict. Glenda starred opposite David Buck. If her agent's reading this, inflation should generate a fee five times bigger than her cheque for 1978 - or fourteen times bigger than the 1969 fee.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Tense times continue in the BBC Charter Bunker, where cuts in scope, a.k.a. output, are flying in and out of draft DG speeches.

Could it be that that a reverse takeover of BBC News (a.k.a. the News Channel, nee News 24) by BBC World News is in the mind of globally-focused James Harding and his ITN-bred management team, who care only about monstering the television audience of their former employers at 6pm and 10pm ?  Is it possible that consumers in the UK tuning in via satellite and cable will end up with BBC-international-coverage-of-distinction-chasing-ad-sales, to have a brief summary of News About Britain in their ad breaks, and cede UK coverage to Sky ?

Could this be related to the retirement of Sue Inglish, now in her 60s, one of the BBC's long-standing political antenna ?

We note that Fox News has moved up to the second most popular cable/satellite channel in the States.

The BBC News Channel cost £48m for its content last year, plus £8m for distribution, and £9.5m for infrastructure and support. The BBC World News channel switches its focus round the clock - from Asia, to Africa, and the US, with programmes that apparently win revenue between bulletins; last year they lost £7m. Time to make some noise.


Bulk buying of rights, in the hope of recouping outlay from further sales, is what Discovery has done with the Olympics in Europe.  David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery, signed the deal with the International Olympic Committee - he is one of Lord Hall's guests at the RTS Cambridge Convention in September.

Dominic 'Dirty Work' Coles was the BBC's liaison point with the IOC in the run-up-to and delivery of the London Games 2012.  He joined Discovery in July last year.

Jobs for the .... ?

An extract from the latest employment stats published by the DCMS - looks like one problem's shifting, but another looms large.

 Of all jobs in the Creative Economy in 2014, 11.0 per cent were filled by BAME workers, a similar level to the UK economy.
 Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 12.5 per cent increase in the number of BAME group jobs in the Creative Economy. The increase for the White group was 4.0 per cent.
 In Creative Industries in 2014, 11.0 per cent of jobs were filled by BAME workers.
 The number of BAME workers in the Creative Industries increase by 8.0 per cent between 2013 and 2014 (34.3% since 2011), compared with a 5.1 per cent (14.7% since 2011) increase for White workers in the Creative Industries.

Socio-Economic Class
 In 2014, 91.9 per cent of jobs in the Creative Economy were done by people in more advantaged socio-economic groups (NS-SEC 1-4), compared to 66.0 per cent of jobs in the wider UK economy.  More advantaged groups made up 92.1 per cent of jobs in the Creative Industries.

Itchy and scratchy

Sweaty times in the BBC Charter Bunker, where scribes are writing, re-writing and re-writing Lord Hall's latest attempt to outflank Auntie's opponents. In an adjacent chamber, the Chief Dresser to the Executive is ironing the Hair Shirt of Efficiency, traditionally worn when the DG Delivers Value With A Serious Face.

What can we expect ?  Lord Hall led the way in one of his first moves back at the Corporation, announcing a cap on senior management pay-offs at £150k - a cap now applied to all BBC employees. The Conservative manifesto promises to cap public sector management deals at £95,000. Will Tone try to better that ?

Despite his profound wish for a simpler management structure, I'm not sure Tone has something radical up his sleeve. What he DOES like is setting targets - cf more female presenters on local radio breakfast shows. So perhaps there'll be a percentage set to reduce senior management further over, say, two years. This will put pressure on Danny Cohen, Helen Boaden, James Harding and James Purnell to really cut numbers, rather than create a new sub-strate of apparatchiks at Band 11.

And then, perhaps, it's over to Valerie Hughes D'Aeth, now with her feet under the table at HR, for yet another attempt at hitting what the papers like to think are BBC perks - taxis, special allowances for turning up, etc. The hope must be that she's got the spine to do it - and that the unions may understand, finally, that it has to be done to win some of the Charter Renewal arguments.

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