Former BBC director-general, and current CEO of The New York Times Company, Mark Thompson, was grilled by British MPs today over severance packages paid out to senior execs towards the end of his time at the public broadcaster. The BBC is being scrutinized for making £25M in exit payments, some said to be in excess of contractual obligations. Public accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge contended that today’s hearing was not to “bash the BBC,” rather it was designed to “get to the truth.” By the end, she had called the session “a grossly unedifying occasion.”
Thompson was among seven witnesses providing testimony to the committee today, along with BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten. Patten had earlier said he was unaware of some of the payments and that he was “shocked and dismayed” that a £1M payment to Thompson’s former deputy director general Mark Byford in 2010/2011 exceeded his contractual entitlement. Thompson has maintained that the Trust had been kept well-informed. He said his mandate at the time of the Byford payment was to reduce the corporation’s payroll from the top. He characterized it as “value for money” and said he had been under “ferocious pressure” to cut costs. “I do not think we lost the plot, I do think we had done several important things to begin to control payments,” he said, noting that steps taken during his tenure led to a cost-savings at the BBC of £35M. The matter is of some concern to the British public given that it funds the broadcaster via a license fee of £145.50 per year. Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
Just four days into his new job as CEO of The New York Times Company, Mark Thompson is again the subject of an article in its flagship newspaper. A story published today by The New York Times says a new piece of information “raises questions” about assertions Thompson has made with regard to when he learned of allegations of sexual abuse against late BBC host Jimmy Savile. Thompson told the NYT in October, “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.” He has also maintained that he knew nothing of a cancelled investigation by the BBC‘s flagship current affairs program Newsnight into the claims against Savile. But the NYT reports today that a letter sent by lawyers eight days before Thompson left the BBC in September reveals he was involved in “aggressive” legal action pertaining to the Savile story. The letter, sent on behalf of Thompson and news chief Helen Boaden, threatened Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times newspaper with “defamation proceedings” if it were to publish an article alleging the pair had orchestrated a cover-up over the scuppered Newsnight broadcast.
NYT Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Welcomes Mark Thompson As CEO
Latest Fiasco At BBC Turns Up The Heat On Incoming NYT CEO
The NYT, which has closely scrutinized Thompson’s role in the saga, says the letter has been revealed to include a summary of the abuse alleged against Savile, and the fact that some of the abuse was alleged to have taken place on BBC premises. A Thompson aide told the NYT that Thompson orally authorized the sending of the letter but did not know the details of its contents. “It’s not clear if he was shown it,” the aide said, “but he doesn’t remember reading it.”
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UPDATE, 10:30 AM: New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. emailed staff today to welcome former BBC director general Mark Thompson as CEO of The New York Times Company. Thompson joins The Times just two days after his BBC successor resigned from the broadcaster amid ongoing editorial turmoil that has shaken public faith in the venerable company. Here is the text of Sulzberger’s message:
Mark will lead us as we continue our digital transformation, bolster our international growth, drive our productivity and introduce new technologies that will help us become better storytellers and enrich the experience for our readers and viewers …
That is what he did as director general of the BBC. His experience will be of great value to our company as we continue our pursuit of creating the highest quality journalism and the business results to support it.
All those who have met Mark, from staff members to our board of directors, admire his focus, meaningful expertise and appreciation for the long-term future of the Times Company.
Related: Latest Fiasco At BBC Turns Up The Heat On Incoming New York Times CEO
PREVIOUS, 6:48 AM: Former BBC director general Mark Thompson started work as CEO of The New York Times Company today, despite concerns of some Times journalists about his suitability for the job amid ongoing turmoil at the British broadcaster. ITV News grabbed the exec this morning as he was walking into the Times building where he said he believes that the BBC troubles “will not in any way affect my job, which I’m starting right now.” On the subject of the resignation this weekend of his BBC successor George Entwistle, he said, “Look, like many people, I’m very saddened by recent events at the BBC. But I believe the BBC is the world’s greatest broadcaster and I’ve got no doubt that it will Read More »
The sex abuse/editorial scandal plaguing the BBC is starting to reach across the pond. Mark Thompson, the former head of the BBC and the incoming CEO of The New York Times Company, has reiterated to the newspaper that he was not aware of the BBC’s Newsnight investigation into sexual abuse allegations against late TV host Jimmy Savile until after the report was spiked. Thompson’s comments to the Times run in an interview that appears in today’s paper – a day after Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan wrote, “How likely is it that (Thompson) knew nothing?” and suggested it was “worth considering whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events.”
A New York Times spokesman said, “Mark will join The New York Times Company as president and CEO the week of Nov. 12. We believe his experience and accomplishments make him the ideal person to take the helm of the Times Company as we focus on growing our businesses through digital and global expansion.” But Douglas Arthur, an analyst at Evercore Partners, has said it would be advisable to “delay” Thompson’s start until the situation shakes out in the UK. Independent reviews are underway at the BBC on the Savile allegations as they relate to the corporation and on the controversial killing of the Newsnight piece. Thompson’s successor, George Entwistle, was grilled on the matters for two hours yesterday by a parliamentary select committee.
Related: BBC’s George Entwistle Grilled By Parliament Over Jimmy Savile Sex Scandal
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The venerable newspaper company has turned to a television exec with experience managing tight budgets to help lead its journey into the digital era. Mark Thompson, 55, has been Director-General of the BBC since 2004. He’ll relocate to New York and will start at The Times in November. He’ll also be a member of the company board and report to Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Thompson’s “experience and his accomplishments at the BBC made him the ideal candidate to lead the Times Company at this moment in time when we are highly focused on growing our business through digital and global expansion,” Sulzberger says. The Times has been looking for a CEO since December when Janet Robinson left. Since June the smart money has been betting that Thompson would land the job after the London Olympics. Thompson’s wife is American and speculation was that he would be eager to move to the U.S. Thompson has spent most of his career at the BBC except for a period when he was the chief of Channel 4.
Mark Thompson is set to leave his post as BBC director general after the London Olympics this summer. In the past month, he’s said to have had meetings about the chief executive job at The New York Times Company which has been vacant since Janet Robinson left in December, The Guardian reports. Thompson has spent most of his career at the BBC except for a period when he was the chief of Channel 4. He became director general of the BBC in 2004. Thompson’s wife is American and speculation is that he would be eager to move to the US. He’s not worked for a newspaper before, but gained experience as a journalist during his BBC career.
In a move that had been expected for the past few months, Mark Thompson announced his exit this afternoon in a letter to staff. “This morning I told (BBC chairman) Lord Patten that I believe that an appropriate time for me to hand over to a successor and to step down as Director-General of the BBC would be the autumn of this year, once the Olympics and the rest of the amazing summer of 2012 are over,” Thompson wrote. “I have told the Chairman that I believe that he and the Trust should begin the public process of finding the next DG as soon as they see fit,” he added. The Guardian opines that Thompson’s exit could see the first female DG at the BBC, with COO Caroline Thomson and head of news Helen Boaden among the names circulating internally. BBC Vision chief George Entwistle is also said to be a candidate. Thompson noted that his eight-year stint atop the broadcaster made him the longest-serving DG since the 1970s. “We’ve weathered a series of lively storms and been through some trying as well as some very successful times together,” he said. The BBC has been faced with austerity measures in recent years. The latest cost-cutting scheme, Delivering Quality First, kicked in last year after TV license fees were frozen until 2017 meaning a big drop in revenues.
Thompson will attack Sky tonight during his Mactaggart lecture speech at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Thompson will point to the vast scale of Sky and its influence over the UK broadcasting industry. He will compare the £2 billion the Corporation spends on programmes with the estimated £100 million Sky spends on original UK content. This is despite the BBC’s annual £3.6 billion licence fee being smaller than the £5.3 billion Sky earned last year. The BBC Director General is taking the gloves off and going on the offensive tonight, telling staff in a recent email that “it’s time to take on some of the BBC’s critics head-on”. Last year, News Corp director James Murdoch used the lecture to delivering a withering attack on the BBC, describing its scale as “chilling”.
Tonight’s keynote speech is seen as make-or-break for Thompson, who faces growing unrest among BBC staff. BBC employees are currently being balloted on whether to take strike action over plans to make their pensions less generous. And they smell double standards when top BBC managers opt to stay in London while the rank and file are forced to move to Salford, near Manchester. The BBC is moving more production to the north of England in order to stop the Corporation being such a metropolitan broadcaster.
In a nod to the challenges faced by the BBC’s commercial rivals, Thompson will … Read More »
‘We Are The Best!’ Headed To Screens In Six More Territories
Lukas Moodysson’s latest feature We Are The Best! has sealed a number of new distribution deals. TrustNordisk has added France (MK2), Russia (Caravella), Greece (One from the Heart), Mexico (Cannibal Networks), Hungary (Vertigo), Estonia (Estin Film) and Hong Kong (Edko) to the list of territories where the film will be released. The tale of three young outsiders in 1980s Stockholm who form a punk band debuted in Venice. Magnolia Pictures acquired it for the U.S. after it played in Toronto.
Latest Stop For Keshet’s ‘Rising Star’ Is Italy
Keshet International has locked another deal for Rising Star, its hit interactive talent show. Sony Pictures Television Group production company Toro will adapt the format for Italy. This follows recent deals in France, Russia, Germany and the Nordics. Rising Star was one of the hottest properties at the recent Mipcom TV market and incorporates real-time voting by viewers via a free app that is fully integrated into the show. Read More »
Listen to (and share) episode 6 of Deadline’s audio podcast Global Showbiz Watch With Nancy Tartaglione. Deadline’s international editor talks with host David Bloom about the Venice Film Festival, including unlikely Golden Lion winner Sacro Gra and another timely documentary, this one from Oscar winner Errol Morris about another former Defense Secretary, this time Donald Rumsfeld. They also discuss the grilling Parliament gave New York Times CEO Mark Thompson over fat severance packages for execs when he was head of the BBC, and the wide-ranging lineup announced for the London Film Festival later this fall.
Deadline Global Showbiz Watch, Episode 6 (MP3 format)
Deadline Global Showbiz Watch, Episode 6 (MP4a format)
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Here’s the latest milestone in the story of newspapers’ decline in the digital age. The Times paid $1.1B for the Boston daily n 1993 — the highest price ever for a U.S. newspaper. Today it announced that it has agreed to sell its New England Media Group, which includes the Boston Globe, to Fenway Sports Group for $70M. John Henry is the principal owner of Fenway Sports, but the chairman is Tom Werner who co-founded The Carsey-Werner Company and was executive producer of TV hits including The Cosby Show, Roseanne, 3rd Rock From The Sun, and That 70s Show. In addition to the Globe, the company is picking up BostonGlobe.com, Boston.com, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Telegram.com, GlobeDirect (a direct mail marketing company), and a 49% stake in Metro Boston. Times CEO Mark Thompson says that the sale will enable him to “sharpen our company focus on and investments in The New York Times brand and its journalism.” The Times put the Boston-area properties up for sale in February, the last part of its ongoing effort to shed non-core assets. Henry’s Fenway Sports Group also owns Fenway Park, 80% of the New England Sports Network, 50% of NASCAR team Rousch Fenway Racing, and English Premier League’s soccer team Liverpool F.C.
ESPN has made its second high-profile signing in a week, and it’s someone well known to Hollywood political circles. The New York Times announced online tonight that its political number cruncher Nate Silver is heading to the sports giant and taking his FiveThirtyEight crystal ball column with him. Silver began his career by compiling spreadsheets of baseball statistics before he became the best known 2012 national election prognosticator and the most accurate. The NYT said that, in political years, he will have a role at ABC News, which is also owned by Disney. Most of the statisticians had Mitt Romney beating President Obama in the electoral college count for months prior to the election, but Silver called the contest correctly. (Said the president: “Nate Silver completely nailed it. The guy’s amazing.”) Prior to the 2008 election, Silver gained recognition for developing an algorithm known as PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm), which was used to predict players’ future performance.
The news of Silver’s defection comes just days after the ESPN re-signed Keith Olbermann to do a late-night show on ESPN2 and less than a month before News Corp launches its rival sports network Fox Sports 1. The NYT said Silver’s 3-year contract was set to expire in late August, “and his departure will most likely be interpreted … Read More »
BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten quoted Charles Dickens today in reflecting on the corporation’s last year: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he said. Patten made the remark in presenting the BBC’s annual report for the year ended March 31. He was specifically referring to the ups and downs of 2012/2013 which included highs like coverage of the summer Olympics and lows like the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal. Speaking of the Savile crisis and of editorial troubles at flagship news magazine Newsnight, Patten said, “The BBC seriously let down both itself and license fee payers. Trust in the institution took a hit as a result, although it has begun to recover.” The fallout from the Savile scandal was costly in more ways than one. It was revealed that the broadcaster spent about £5M on investigations in the wake of the crisis while payments to outgoing execs also jumped. Talent remunieration dropped a little over 1%, but executive pay rose from $2.56M to £4.13M, per The Guardian. Those execs include former general director Mark Thompson who left in September 2012 to be CEO and president of The New York Times Co., and George Entwistle who left in November after just 54 days on the job amid the Savile revelations. Entwistle alone receieved £470,000 in severance plus £107,000 in legal fees. The corporation … Read More »
The BBC is in hot water again, this time over the handling of the Digital Media Initiative, a project to digitize archive content and make it easily accessible to production staff. The project was cancelled last month, but had already cost the broadcaster and taxpayers nearly £100M. Now, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) contends that it was misled over the status of the initiative during evidence given in 2011 by the BBC and its then-director general Mark Thompson. At the time, Thompson – who is now CEO of the New York Times Company – told the Committee, “There are many programs that are already being made with DMI, and some have gone to air and are going to air with DMI already working.” But at a hearing yesterday, Committee chair Margaret Hodge said, “We were told that there were bits of this system that were working, that you were using them. That wasn’t true. That just wasn’t true.” She has summoned Thompson to answer questions at a July hearing, The Guardian reports.
In a statement, Thompson said, “When I appeared in front of the PAC… I answered all of the questions from Committee members honestly and in good faith. I did so on the basis of information provided to me at the time by the BBC executives responsible for delivering the project.” Thompson has had a hard time leaving the BBC behind. Just as he was starting his New York Times Co. job in November, he was the subject of scrutiny from the flagship paper, and the British media, over the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight saga and was also interviewed for an inquiry into the scandal which erupted just after he left the broadcaster. Read More »
In a first for a Hollywood star, Kevin Spacey will deliver the keynote MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival in August. The influential speech traditionally focuses on serious issues facing the UK TV business. It has in the past been delivered by three members of the Murdoch family: Rupert, James and Elisabeth, who gave last year’s address. Other previous speakers include Ted Turner, Eric Schmidt and former BBC chief Mark Thompson.
Spacey’s involvement comes on the heels of exec producing and starring in House Of Cards, which Netflix positioned as a game-changer by releasing all 13 episodes of the drama’s first season at once. Season two is currently filming. On giving the MacTaggart, Spacey said, “Clearly this has been an exciting period for me personally, but also I believe this is a time of huge opportunity, innovation and creativity for all of us who live to tell stories and engage audiences. I’m excited to share my thoughts and meet players from across the media industry. I’m also an Edinburgh TV Festival virgin so have no idea what I am letting myself in for!” Read More »
No surprise about who topped the list of 2012′s highest paid CEOs at the media companies whose compensation practices I track most closely. (See here for an explanation). CBS’ Les Moonves returns to the head of the pack with $62.2M, even though his package was 11.1% smaller than it was in 2011. That was an anomaly: The top 20 collectively made $542.7M, up from $416.6M in 2011, according to company proxy statements filed at the SEC. It took $25.9M to crack the Top 10 — last year Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt made it with $16.4M. The most notable change in this year’s list vs 2011 is the jump by Liberty Media’s Greg Maffei to No. 2 from No. 28 as his company adjusted stock options just in case the feds change the corporate deduction this year for performance-based compensation.
Related: Big Media Moguls With Out-Of-Whack Compensation
Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer also joins the top 10 following her move there from Google. Her appearance also highlights a quirk in this year’s list which has more CEOs than companies: Yahoo had three CEOs last year (Mayer is still there) and there were two apiece at Sirius XM (James Meyer replaced Mel Karmazin) and Cinemark (Tim Warner is now in charge). Also, remember that this list just includes corporate CEOs, not division chiefs or board chairs. I’ll be back soon with a list of the highest-paid media execs. The numbers on the right are the amount in millions of dollars for the total compensation as reported by each company.
Here’s our list of 2012′s highest-paid media CEOs: Read More »
New BBC Chief Says “Best Days Lie Ahead”
Today was the first day on the job for the BBC’s new director general, Tony Hall. The broadcaster’s former head of news returned to the Beeb after more than a decade as CEO of the Royal Opera House. The organization he confronted today is in far different shape than it was when he left. After going into crisis mode last October when the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal broke open, the BBC was rocked by the mishandling of a Newsnight report that mistakenly identified a senior politician as an alleged pedophile. Those events led to the resignation of former director general George Entwistle after only 54 days on the job. Mark Thompson, Entwistle’s predecessor, left in September to become CEO of The New York Times Company and under his watch austerity measures were put in place after the license fee that was frozen until 2017. Two major unions went out on strike at the BBC last Thursday in protest over what was referred to as “a modern-day BBC sweatshop” along with bullying claims at the company. Hall made a handful of appointments prior to starting at the BBC, but has yet to name a head of news or head of television. In an email to staff today, he said, “With imagination and hard work, the BBC’s best days lie ahead of us.” Read More »
The BBC this morning published 3,000 pages of interviews and correspondence related to the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal and the 2011 shelving of a Newsnight program that would have revealed the late host’s alleged crimes. The documents include few earthshattering revelations, but are laced with internal criticisms and email chains that provide a window onto the workings of the venerable broadcaster whose armor has been severely dinged in the past several months as a result of the combined crises. (Read the full report here.)
The documents, provided by the Pollard Inquiry into the handling of the Newsnight affair, include testimony from key witnesses like Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman, whose evidence has been the focus of much scrutiny given its criticisms of management. He told interviewers that the Pollard Inquiry was being conducted in a “ridiculous fashion” and called the BBC’s behavior regarding the Newsnight report “contemptible.” He further said he’d been surprised by then-editor Peter Rippon’s response when Paxman wanted to pursue the Savile investigation after learning that rival ITV was about to air its own exposé. According to Paxman, Rippon said “I just can’t do this.” Paxman contends the use of the word ‘can’t’ was “very, very unusual… and I didn’t say, ‘What do you mean ‘can’t'? Someone has told you that you can’t, or you physically can’t face it?’” Paxman says he now believes it was a mixture of both. (The BBC said yesterday that Rippon would take over a newly-created post as editor of the BBC online archive). Paxman added that Savile’s behavior was “common gossip” around the corporation, although much of his testimony has been redacted. The BBC said today that 3% of the overall information has been blacked out “for a very limited number of legal reasons.” Read More »