As expected, BBC Vision director Jana Bennett, the woman in charge of all the BBC’s TV channels, is moving to the Beeb’s commercial arm. Bennett, who’s an adroit politician, will join BBC Worldwide in February 2011. She will control all of BBC Worldwide’s wholly-owned BBC channels, such as pre-school channel CBeebies. I’m hearing that Bennett may not be directly replaced as BBC director general Mark Thompson needs to cut the number of highly-paid executives. Bennett has been earning £517,000 ($805,172) a year in her current role.
Mark Thompson has called on the British government to intervene in News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB. Speaking on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show in New York, he agreed there was potential for an abuse of power by the Murdoch media group if BSkyB, the UK’s biggest broadcaster in terms of its £5.4 billion revenue, comes under the same ownership as News International, the UK’s largest newspaper group. Combining BSkyB with News International, owner of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, raised issues of “how you ensure plurality in the system”, Thompson warned. He said that the UK government should look at those issues – although he stopped short of calling for the deal to be blocked.
Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, says he’s upbeat over government negotiations to renew the £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) licence fee. Talks over the next 4-year licence fee settlement, which runs 2013-16, are due to start next summer. The BBC has been having a bad time of it lately, rocked by scandals over executive pay and the amount it pays stars. Thompson, interviewed at today’s Royal Television Society International Conference in London, denied public perception of the Beeb has been damaged. If anything, he said, the public’s estimation of the BBC has gone up. The coalition government may still cut 2012’s licence fee, while the Beeb would like a 2% rise. It’s already offered to freeze this year’s licence fee. Right now every UK household pays for BBC service through a TV licence fee of £145.50 ($227).
Thompson suggested Brit TV viewers may be able to buy programmes through its new internet TV YouView service, which is due to launch spring 2011. The one-week window when viewers can watch BBC shows for free via the iPlayer will stay, Thompson said. But the director general said viewers may be able to download programmes to keep, much as you can buy BBC DVDs in shops today.
The BBC boss said the Corporation would not provide even more local news coverage. Thompson said the Corporation needs to make services it already runs better rather than expand further. Thompson was responding to UK culture secretary …
UPDATE: The pay-TV giant wants to hear pitches for movies and two-part miniseries as it moves back into original feature production. Sky wants to co-produce three big event TV movies each year. The problem, it says, will be finding UK projects of sufficient scale and quality – a problem which Warner Bros also faces developing British blockbusters. Brit producers tend to think small-scale and intimate. “We’re looking for big exclusive events that can add value to the movie subscription,” Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies tells me. “A lot of the projects we’ve sifted already were easy to turn down.
“We’re looking for the kinds of stories, cast and production values that we would see on the movie channels.”
Sky Movies HD has announced the TV giant’s first foray back into original feature production since the late 90s. Neverland is a Peter Pan origin story starring Rhys Ifans as the young Captain Hook, Anna Friel as his rival Captain Bonny and Bob Hoskins reprising his role as Smee from Spielberg’s Hook. Charlie Rowe (Never Let Me Go) will star as Peter Pan. Nick Willing, who helmed Tin Man for Syfy in the US, is directing. Syfy is co-funding Neverland with Sky. Irish indie Parallel Films is the producer. RHI Entertainment is distributing internationally. Filming starts next week on location in Genoa, Italy and then move on to Dublin.
Most movies only arrive …
As expected, BBC director general Mark Thompson has gone on the attack against the Murdochs and News Corp. He warned that Sky will shortly become Britain’s biggest broadcaster and said such a concentration of cross-media ownership would not be allowed in the U.S.. Thompson blasted Sky for spending so little on original programming and pointed out that the £100 million it spends each year is not much more than Channel 5’s UK programme budget. This is despite Sky’s £5.9 billion turnover being more than 15 times that of Five’s.
Thompson also used his keynote Edinburgh TV festival speech to single out News Corp for weakening and undermining the BBC. At times, he evoked playwright Dennis Potter’s fiery 1993 Mactaggart lecture pouring bile on Rupert Murdoch. Thompson defended the BBC as an idea of “public space”, one which “would not put anybody on the wrong side of an encryption wall”. Thompson criticised the Murdoch press for chipping away at the BBC trying to uncover some new petty scandal. Stories attacking the BBC were ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense, Thompson said. One reporter cheerfully admitted to him that his newspaper bosses were just out to get the Corporation. The free-marketers have spent the last 25 years making a case for abolishing the BBC, said Thompson, yet public support for the Beeb has actually increased.
“Enemies of public service broadcasting always want to atomise …
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 …