Britain’s Public Accounts Committee, a Parliamentary oversight group, has strongly criticized the BBC over severance packages paid to senior execs that in the three years to December 2012 totaled £25M ($40.8M). “There was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people’s money,” the PAC said today. The BBC is funded by a compulsory £145.50 license fee paid by British households on an annual basis. The committee called some of the justifications provided by the BBC “extraordinary.” The group particularly noted comments made by former BBC director general, Mark Thompson, who is now president of The New York Times Company, when he appeared before it in September. Thompson “claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford ‘fully focused’ instead of ‘taking calls from head hunters’,” the PAC noted. In 2010, Byford was paid two years’ salary, half of it in lieu of notice, and was retained and paid for eight more months. The spokeswoman for the New York Times provided that paper with a statement from Thompson that reads in part: “Severance payments for senior managers working for public organizations are inevitably unpopular and controversial. The sole reason for making these payments was so that the BBC could rapidly reduce the number of senior managers and make far larger savings on behalf of the public… Despite some inflammatory language in the PAC report, there is absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing by anyone at the BBC in relation to these severance payments.”
New BBC director general Tony Hall, who succeeded George Entwistle after he lasted only 54 days on the job and was forced out over a series of scandals that erupted in late 2012 (and was given a controversial £450,000 payout), has moved to cap severance pay at the broadcaster. The PAC says it welcomes the changes and agrees with Hall that the BBC had “lost the plot” in its management of severance payments in recent years. PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said the payments had put the BBC’s reputation at risk. The stinging rebuke comes at a time when the BBC has been making some headway in rebuilding its tarnished reputation after the late 2012 crises that included child sex abuse revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile, and editorial missteps at flagship news program, Newsnight. 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 »
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 »
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 »
UPDATE, 4:50 AM : A review into the cancellation of a BBC Newsnight program that would have revealed allegations of rampant sexual abuse by late BBC personality Jimmy Savile has been released. In the report, overseen by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard, are strong criticisms of the BBC Trust along with senior BBC executives past and present. The review (read it here) found that the BBC response to the scandal that blew open in October when rival ITV aired a program outlining allegations against Savile, was “chaos and confusion.” Pollard said, “The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month.” Former BBC director general George Entwistle and BBC1 controller Danny Cohen didn’t look hard enough at the issues at the time the Newsnight report was shelved in late 2011 and tributes to Savile aired on BBC1, the review found. This was especially in light of emails that had been sent to Entwistle and Cohen, but apparently not read, that mentioned a “darker side” of Savile. Newsnight editor Peter Rippon is to be replaced but head of news Helen Boaden’s October offer to resign was not accepted and she will return to work tomorrow. Her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, resigned just after the Pollard report Read More »
New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson, who was interviewed a week ago in London in connection with the BBC scandal involving sex abuse claims against former TV host Jimmy Savile, notified the paper’s staff in a memo today that conclusion of the investigation has been delayed. As a result Thompson, a former BBC director general who had planned to face Times staff questions December 17th and 18th, said those meetings won’t take place until “early in the new year”. Thompson was questioned last week about his role in squelching a news program about the claims against Savile. Content of that interview has not been made public but is expected to be disclosed by the time the inquiry wraps.
Related: BBC Directors Face Parliament Over Ongoing Crisis
In a three-hour session this morning, BBC Trust chairman Lord Chris Patten and acting BBC director general Tim Davie answered questions about ongoing troubles at the broadcaster. This was the same panel that grilled George Entwistle in October, two weeks before he was forced to resign as director general. Patten’s and Davie’s turns were somewhat less fraught, although Patten was often taken to task by one BBC-averse MP. Both Patten and Davie owned up to a “bad journalistic error” that led to the running of a recent Newsnight report that falsely implied former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine was a pedophile. However, Davie said he thought cancelling the 60 Minutes-like flagship program would be an “overreaction.” Disciplinary hearings are currently underway with the dozen or so people involved in the report. 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 »
2ND UPDATE 3:20 AM: Following Saturday’s resignation of BBC director general George Entwistle, the BBC Trust appointed Tim Davie, an executive from outside the news chain, to become acting director. A permanent director is to be appointed in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, Davie has written to BBC employees. He sent an email to staff this morning, which The Guardian has posted in its entirety. In part, it reads: “The BBC is a precious institution and I am determined to give the BBC the clarity and leadership it deserves in the next few weeks. What I will also do is continue what George set out – to work tirelessly on getting rid of anything that gets in the way of delivering the best of British creativity to our audiences. There will be no handbrake turn.” Read More »
This article was reported and written by Deadline’s London correspondent Joe Utichi and International Editor Nancy Tartaglione:
2ND UPDATE, 6:07 PM: With George Entwistle’s surprise resignation from the BBC Saturday night in the UK, new emphasis falls on his predecessor, Mark Thompson, who is due to start as the New York Times Co.’s new CEO on Monday. He’s been the focus of New York Times editorials in recent weeks which have raised questions about details of his involvement in the cancellation of the Newsnight piece on accused sex abuser Jimmy Savile, which fell under his watch.
But Entwistle had certainly borne the brunt of criticism to date. Now, it casts the wrong kind of shadow on Thompson’s new employers, who seem likely to address the issue before Thompson takes up his post. Media analyst Ken Doctor thinks it’s “more likely Thompson doesn’t start on Monday than he does,” he tells Deadline. “He could well be dragged into parliamentary hearings and inquiries, and even if there’s no guilt or blame there, it’ll keep that story alive for a series of months.” It’s attention the Times doesn’t want as it hits a high point, journalistically. “They’ve done a lot of work on their digital strategy and can take pride in their coverage of key events like the election.” Doctor says. “They’ve been able to define themselves as the white knight preservers of journalism, untainted by scandal. In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, they could always contrast themselves with the Murdoch empire. But as of Monday they’ll have a CEO who is essentially using a similar defense to James Murdoch,” that he was too busy to know what was going on. The next 36 hours will prove crucial as we learn whether the ongoing scandal threatens another media organization.
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BBC Comedies Vie For Commissions At Salford Sitcom Showcase
The BBC is taking a shot at remaking It Takes A Village, the 2010 ABC pilot by Casey Johnson & David Windsor that starred Leah Remini. Whether the UK version actually goes forward, however, will be in the hands of a live studio audience next month. For the second year in a row, the BBC is testing a crop of potential shows in front of a live audience at the Salford Sitcom Showcase, a three-day event during which six comedy pilots are performed onstage to a packed house as execs take notes. The first edition spawned commissions for family sitcoms Citizen Khan, which BBC One just picked up for a second season, and Hebburn which debuted on BBC Two this month. On deck at this year’s showcase with It Takes A Village are the battling-neighbors show 1987, from Sherlock producers Beryl and Sue Vertue; Just Us, about a couple forced to downsize from London that’s exec produced by Don Taffner for DLT Entertainment and stars Downton Abbey‘s Samantha Bond; The Gatekeeper, from exec producers Gareth Edwards and Saurabh Kakkar about a 40-ish man who works the nightshift as a security guard; the Pete Thornton exec produced Chain Gang about life in a Bristol coffee bar and family show Homeboys from exec producer Mario Stylianides for Lucky Giant. This year, the Salford Showcase runs from Nov 21-23.
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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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Mark Thompson will be collecting a lot less as the Times’ new CEO than his predecessor, Janet Robinson, did. The soon-to-be former Director-General of the BBC — he starts at the Times in November — will collect an annual salary of $1M, the company says in an SEC filing this morning. The board also targets a $1M annual incentive. To encourage him to leave the BBC, the Times awarded Thompson a sign-on bonus targeted at $3M. Half of it comes in an amount of stock that will be pegged to how well the Times’ does in the market compared to the benchmark Standard and Poor’s 500 in the period ending November 2015. He could get none of that $1.5M — or it could go as high as $3M. The remaining 50% of the sign-on bonus is in stock options that vest in three annual installments. In addition, Thompson is entitled to a relocation benefit of three months housing and a maximum of $100,000 plus up to $25,000 to reimburse his legal fees for negotiating the contract. By contrast, the compensation package for Robinson — who left the company in December — came to $11.3M last year, $5.3M in 2010, and $6.7M in 2009.
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.
The BBC has slashed its budget for foreign TV imports such as AMC’s Mad Men and Danish thriller The Killing, which was a hit for the broadcaster. Budget cuts announced this morning mean that talent may also quit for rival channels because the BBC cannot afford them. Mark Thompson, BBC director general, said in London that the BBC will cut its budget by a further $1 billion a year by 2016/17. This comes on top of savings already announced. Around 2,000 of the broadcaster’s 17,000-strong workforce will lose their jobs – 12% of employees. It is thought half of the redundancies will come from BBC News. The Beeb also plans to move out of its west London headquarters, possibly knocking down its huge offices and maybe sell the land to Chelsea soccer club, which has been looking for a new home. The Corporation, which, in economic terms matches the size of the British film industry, is cutting its budget by 20% to $5.4 billion a year for six years. Last October the Beeb rushed into what many saw as a hastily-agreed deal with the UK government, agreeing to have its state grant cut by 16%. Plus the BBC is looking to divert 4% of the money it currently spends into programming and technology rather than on back-office operations. In 2010’s UK government spending review, the BBC licence fee – the compulsory tax which everybody must pay — was frozen at … Read More »
Britain’s national state TV broadcaster is looking at cutting its U.S. acquisition budget even further, especially for costly American films. BBC director-general Mark Thompson briefed senior managers last week about big cuts to programming budgets as he is grappling with what is in effect an 16% overall cut for the broadcaster. BBC1, the main channel, already shows fewer movies –- last year, the number of films it showed fell by 17% to 281. The Beeb has been criticised in the past for paying top dollar for movies like Harry Potter that have already been through every window, including pay TV. Other cuts being considered include drastically scaling back the number of show aired after 10:30 PM and scrapping all local radio shows apart from breakfast and drive-time. Read More »