Thursday, June 30, 2016


The Daily Express is grumpy that the BBC spent £1,560,476 on taxis last year.  The figure is actually down more than £200,000 on the previous year. That's despite James Purnell's Strategy and Digital division spending £54,000 more than in 2013/14.

But there's also a big bit missing - taxi spend in output divisions, like News, Television and Radio, which the BBC says is related to content, and therefore out of FOI scope. Fnaar.

Do what I say, not...

May 2016 ITV boss Kevin Lygo on BBC longrunners like Casualty, Countryfile and Antiques Roadshow

"You could argue, yes they're brilliant - but do [they] have to have them on 30 or 40 weeks a year? If they were on half as much, it would create the space and the money and the opportunity to do new shows....You could argue the BBC need not be quite so focused on that consistent delivery and could try new and interesting things with new and interesting people."

June 2016 ITV boss Kevin Lygo on his new programme plans

"I am a life-long fan of Coronation Street and one of the first things I wanted to explore when I became director of television was taking the production to six episodes a week....As a viewer I have watched the soap as it has continued to evolve, entertain, and grip the nation with fantastic storylines and this move will be the next exciting chapter in Corrie’s story.”

Other films available

The Daily Mail's resident curmudgeon, Ephraim Hardcastle, complains about Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley appearing this week on Today, The One Show and Breakfast News, noting that AbFab: The Movie is a BBC Film.

And the rest, mate. There was Graham Norton, Top Gear, and the Nick Grimshaw show on Radio 1. And tomorrow they're with Chris Evans on Radio 2.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Face and fortune

Whilst we seem to be seeing less of Alan Yentob, we may soon be seeing more of daughter Bella. Featured as a Burberry catwalk model at the end of last year, and snapped by Mario Testino, the emerging Manchester University student has now signed with Next Management, one of the world's top ten agencies.

World in motion

Tha National Audit Office gave the BBC World Service operation a largely clean bill of health in a financial review published yesterday, but, as is my wont, here are some niggles.

The World Service closed 630 posts (1 in 4) between 2010 and 215, and seems to be on track to reduce its annual running costs by almost £60m a year by 2016/17, getting rid of a further 107 jobs. Given that background, increasing the audience from 166m to 246m over five years is something of a miracle.

Clues to parts of the miracle come in an NAO critique of the BBC Global Audience Measure
 - "inevitably only an estimate". In any year, 10% of the data used to construct it is 10 years old, and another 23% is two to five years old. Stuff older than 10 years is discarded, but that creates swings and lurches. The 2014/15 GAM included an audience of 2.7 million for Cameroon, surveyed for the first time since 2003, and whose previous data had been excluded in 2013. In contrast, data for 10 surveys was removed in 2014-15 due to the 10-year rule, cutting the GAM by 1 million.

On whether or not the World Service audience likes the output, the NAO says the BBC doesn't know enough. It uses data from satisfaction surveys which cover "BBC News" as a whole, and last year selected data from just 12 countries, overweighted in favour of Europe. European countries accounted for 25% of respondents to the survey, but only 6.5% of the Service’s audience in 2014-15.

Nine language services are not meeting the BBC's own criteria of cost-effectiveness, with Vietnamese, at £1.42 per audience member per year, Usbek at £1.17, and Turkish, at £1.13 the most expensive. The NAO says the BBC could be more transparent about these sort of stats when planning to open and close services.

Back to jobs - and new investment by the Government, a model of consistency, of £289m over the four years ahead is likely to create close to as many jobs as have been cut. Yet, says the NAO, at May 2016, the Foreign Office had yet to say how it would assess the impact of the extra funding against objectives.

There's an interesting pointer as to why James Harding, Director of News, is taking hands-on interest in this extra funding - the NAO found that, in 2014-15, 46% of World Service costs were budgeted to other parts of News.  BBC News faces cuts of £80m over the next four years from its licence fee funding. The new Foreign Office money, if spent evenly, is just over £72m a year; 46% means £35m a year could go into the budgets of other BBC News departments. Clearly ring-fenced, of course.

Wingless wonders

You could have been forgiven for thinking you'd wandered into an academic discussion of sports tactics at the Culture Select Committee yesterday.  BBC DG Lord Hall said, at best, he preferred 5-5-4 to 6-6-2, which was John Whittingdale's strategy.

The topic was the make-up of the BBC's new Unitary Board. Lord Hall said, ideally, it ought to be smaller, but he could live with 4 BBC executives, 5 non-executives anointed by (various) Governments through the public appointments process, and 5 non-executives appointed through a nominations committee led by the BBC chair Rona Fairhead. And, as this blog has repeatedly suggested, he wanted those non-executives representing the four home nations to bring some other skills to the party.

Lord Hall also presaged some sort of beauty contest, where the best of the current BBC non-execs and Trustees get a shot at the new gig, in order to sustain 'corporate memory'. (Would that Lord Hall thought the same was important about some of his current executives...). My money's on Fiona Reynolds to make it through as Senior Non-Exec.

Director of Strategy James Purnell paraded in new glasses that, I guess, someone thinks look those worn by a leader of programme-makers, his new chosen career path, which may yet be achieved without competitive interview.

Lord Hall clearly is still wavering on the cusp of digital and analogue, taking two watches into the shower when one would do. Does he also, in the adjective selected by Private Eye, look a tad 'frazzled' ?

Hot plate

With all those meeja types running Oxford Colleges - Gardam, Hutton, Damazer, Rusbridger, plus former BBC Chair Lord Patten at the top - it's not surprising that a former editor of Today, and now Panorama, might appeal in the role of Director of Public Affairs and Communications.

So Ceri Thomas moves on after 25 years with Auntie, having joined from LBC in 1991. He had the benefit of a year as a Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard, and the dubious fun of acting as No 2 across news in 2012, when big bosses Helen Boaden and Steve Mitchell 'stepped aside' in the wake of the McAlpine mess-up at Newsnight. He also acted as 'prisoner's friend' to the unfortunate Peter Rippon, who was the Newsnight editor who turned down the first big Savile story.

Ceri went to Manchester University, is a fan of Northern Soul and was the first person I met who boasted he had a plate-warming oven. Let's hope he can remember how to cope with crowds; his new department has 37 listed staff, way above the current slimline Panorama team.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Leopard print desert boots

Congratulations to the BBC's new head of drama commissioning, Piers Wenger, now back at the Beeb after a short-ish spell at Channel 4.

As Head of Drama BBC Wales, Piers was an executive producer on two series of Dr Who, with Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffatt, and was part of the team that launched Matt Smith as the Timelord. Previously he wrote for magazine Just 17, then joined ITV as a trainee script editor. He worked on three Victoria Wood dramas, Housewife 49, Loving Miss Hatto and the Eric and Ernie biopic.

Piers' essential wardrobe item ? "A pair of leopard print Acne Studios desert boots. Don't know how I got by without them.” And favoured jeans brand ? "Raf Simons Eyewear drop-crotch indigo jeans." Other leg wear ? "Jogging trousers by Acne Studios".

Up late

Factional fighting in both Conservative Party and the Labour Party suits Newsnight; last night, a very respectable 900,000 tuned in, according to the overnight ratings - a 6.7% share.

Changing gear

With the trimmed facial hair of England surrendering to the hairy men of Iceland, the final Top Gear of the current series is now back in its 8pm slot on BBC2, facing the two Euro quarter-finals being played that night.

I'm guessing the BBC, who have first pick, will opt for Germany v Italy, in an attempt to show us what football can be like, leaving ITV with France v Iceland.

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