Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Not a 6, or a 7. It's a Scottish 9pm for the BBC. DG Lord Hall has promised 80 journalist jobs working on a hour-long integrated news bulletin sitting within a new digital channel, BBC Scotland, to launch in 2018.

The channel will start at 7pm, with a £29m budget (£10m of that is already being spent, so presumably there's some repeats being allowed - £19m is new money). That compares with £48.7m service budget for BBC4 over 2016/17.

9pm is described as "a timeslot which attracts the largest available audience. It will not compete with any other terrestrial news programmes and will offer audiences an alternative to high-end drama and entertainment scheduled at this time on other channels."  Good luck with the audience figures for that, then. The weekend news will be just 15 minutes at 7pm.

BBC Alba is getting an extra £1.2m a year - way short of the campaigners' target - some of which will provide Gaelic news bulletins at the weekend.

Tomorrow it's Scottish Parliament committee time for Tony and Donalda - is this enough to take the wind out of the MSPs' sails ?

Me too

As ITV prepares to move its prestigious-if-now-slightly-niche News at Ten to News at Ten Thirty next Monday, cheeky old Sky are relaunching their News at Ten as a "smart, polished, precise half-hour" - with no advert break in the middle. It'll have new titles and a new theme tune. The presenters will be either Anna Botting or Anna Jones.

Both Sky News boss John Ryley and his new Head of Content, Cristina Nicolotti Squires boast the ITV version of News at Ten in their cvs, and this is Cristina's first move since arriving from ITN at the start of this year. And we all thought she'd been hired to do all that digital stuff....

Nid aur yw popeth melyn

BBC DG Lord Hall is on his way to Scotland to brief staff on investment plans for the next financial year. His case may contain a smoke canister and a mirror or two.

Yesterday we got a press release about investment for BBC Wales, headlined thus: "BBC to increase investment in programming for Wales by 50 per cent". Last year the BBC spent £22.5m on English language programmes made specifically for Wales. The release promises "£8.5m additional new funding" for English language tv - that's an increase of just over 37%.  But wait, there's a hope that BBC Wales can bring in an additional £5m of co-production funding - that gets us to 60%.  And then, pause again - there's a target of getting half of the new productions from Wales, set to total 130 hours a year, onto the full UK Network or iPlayer - so presumably, someone else elsewhere in the BBC will lose that funding. Putting the £8.5m in context, BBC Wales productions costing a total of £61.7m last year (think Dr Who, Casualty, etc) made it to network last year. Perhaps the BBC Press team can help us hit the 50% calculation of their headline.

And whilst increases are more than useful, hacks might like ask about the other Welsh budget lines. Last year, the BBC spend £20.3m on Welsh TV content for S4C; £40.7m on Radio Wales and Radio Cymru; £1.4m on orchestral performances for Radio 3; and £1.9m on contributions for national radio networks. Are they unchanged ? In May, Director of Wales Rhodri Talfan Davies said he expected to make 2% savings a year, every year to 2022.

Target time

A press release from the BBC yesterday...

BBC News is launching a £1 million scheme to recruit, train and develop journalists with disabilities, both visible and hidden, its Director of News James Harding announced today. 

Over the next year, twelve new positions will be created in BBC News’ Mobile and Online teams. The roles will range from broadcast journalists to assistant editors, with the successful applicants working across a wide range of content. The year-long scheme will include bespoke training and learning and at least half of the roles will become permanent at the end of the year. 

Is this new ? The Guardian in May last year report on a BBC News £1m scheme to recruit disabled journalists. Has it really taken that long to get off the ground ?

Employment statistics from BBC News up to December 2016 show 225 disabled staff out of a total of 6398. I make that 3.5%. That's short of the overall BBC target for 2017 of 5.3%.

Where was he ?

Two new sets of minutes from the BBC Executive have landed online - sharing the same omission. James Harding, Director of News, is not noted as an attendee at either the December or January meetings - nor as someone who has sent apologies. Which is odd, as one of the meetings discussed progress on his plans to recruit hacks serving both the BBC and local newspapers.

The summary minutes are as cryptic as ever....

"Executive Board noted an update on the myBBC programme. The majority of planned work would be completed over the next few months and the platform transition to ‘Business As Usual’ in line with the original schedule. The second phase will continue until the end of July for the ID platform."

A cynic, or the NAO, might read this as a cute way of reporting a project overrun, without mentioning money. I wonder who the Project Sponsor is now, as Helen Boaden is clearly thinking big thoughts and a future outside Auntie at Harvard.

Flattery ?

It would be instructive to see ITV's business plan for the redevelopment of their site on London's South Bank. I'll take a wild guess that there might be another, smaller, tower block going up on the site - and a wilder one that some pretty expensive flats might be part of the proposal.

London Weekend started operating from the site in 1972. The offices, in Kent Tower, run to 22 floors, straddling three large and three small tv studios at the base, covering a 2.5 acre site previously known as King's Reach. The architects were Elsom Pack Roberts - EPR.  The new development was actually owned by the National Coal Board Pension Fund, and LWT took a 100-year lease. Since 2003, ITV has been buying that out, and now owns the freehold.

CEO Adam Crozier has begun consultations with the unions on closing the big studios operation, saying in the new development there'll will only be smaller studios dedicated to daily shows such as GMB, This Morning and Loose Women. Big shiny floor shows, like Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, will have to strike deals with other suppliers - perhaps BBC Studioworks.

There'll be disruption, too, for the office workers, who face a move to temporary accommodation in the old Prudential Building on Holborn, previously occupied by Skype.

If, say, you converted Kent Tower to residential (building a smaller, squatter office block at the base), you might get 100 three-bedroom luxury flats, many with river views.  Nearby, the former IPC building, which used to be known as King's Reach, is now South Bank Tower, with the first of over 180 apartments now on offer at £8.5m.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gearing up again

It looks like Top Gear returns to BBC2 on Sunday March 5th. Certainly they're recording something this Wednesday with an audience at Dunsfold Park.

Matt Le Blanc says humour is the key to success for the show, with his new full-time foils Chris Harris and Rory Reid (and occasional appearances from Sabine Schmitz). Unfortunately, humour is so far lacking in the first trail, with an "insurance man", and in the series 'puffs' - Matt eats a horse penis. The new trio appeared yesterday at the BBC Worldwide Showcase in Liverpool - if they'd said anything uproarious, I feel we would have known by now.

Most scriptwriters would tell you LeBlanc is best as a foil, or idiot foil - Lou Costello, Mike Winters, Tommy Ball. There's a lot riding on Chris and Rory in Wednesday's recording.

Meanwhile, the schoolboy humour of Clarkson, May and Hammond, if not to everyone's taste, seems effortless and occasionally genuine. And their publicity machine is quite cute.  

Squad rotation

Half the senior managers in BBC News are new in post since the arrival of James Harding as Director.

A Freedom of Information enquiry reveals there have been 44 appointments at the senior management grades of SM1 and SM2 since 1st August 2013. "All appointments followed an open recruitment process."

In March last year, there was an overall total of 88 senior managers in the division.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Steve Hewlett RIP

How it all started. In conversation with Roger Bolton at the Radio Theatre, for The Media Society.


Will the BBC Trust go out with a roar or a whimper ?

The august body's Twitter account hasn't tweeted for two weeks and the latest monthly minutes are late - but wait ! Tomorrow sees a public lecture by outgoing Chair Rona Fairhead, at Godolphin and Latymer School, noted girls public school in Hammersmith. For £15 (including a glass of juice or wine) you can find out what she thinks about "Truth, power and responsibility: the BBC’s future".

At least Rona's daughter, a stalwart of the school cricket team, is entitled to free entry.

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