Monday, November 27, 2006

And the conductor shouted “All Change!” at the BBC and ITV

Michael Grade's first day at the BBC 17 May 2004Switching on the hotel TV tonight, Sky News were leading on the breaking news from tomorrow morning’s Daily Telegraph. Jeff Randall, ex-BBC Economic Editor, is claiming that Michael Grade, the BBC Chairman, is defecting to run ITV in a hands-on executive chairman role.

Interestingly BBC News 24 are running Stephen Sackur’s HARDtalk, and only acknowledge the Grade story once every five minutes in the middle of the scrolling news at the bottom of the screen.

Meanwhile, Sky News must be regretting having booked Syed Ahmed (from this year’s BBC2 Apprentice) and Steven Norris for the late night paper review section. Ahmed has been in a BBC programme, and has featured in news and gossip in the press, but isn’t insightful into its running. Norris is making a better job of it.

For about half an hour, Sky have barely drawn breath, broadcasting a constant verbiage of Grade comment and speculation.

Media stories seem to over-dominate the news agenda. So other than making sure that the UK mediaocracy all tune into Sky and remember that the story broke there first (rather than on the BBC, or in the Telegraph tomorrow morning), is it justified?

The BBC is a large employer. The vast majority of UK households are licence payers, effectively shareholders, benefiting from the radio/TV/online output of the BBC. So the shock resignation of a major company’s chairman and his move to one of the main commercial rivals (what’s the pecking order between Sky and ITV?) is probably in the public interest. But let’s hope it doesn’t become the only story. (The BBC have now moved onto report the death of DJ Alan "Fluff" Freeman as the breaking news.)

Tuesday Update: The BBC’s Press Release this morning includes the email that went out to all BBC staff this morning from Mark Thompson (the Director-General, CEO in normal money). Thompson’s email had Michael Grade’s farewell email tagged on the bottom—the problem with your resignation taking immediate effect is that you lose your ability to communicate with your old staff rather fast. Grade’s closing remarks:
“ITV is a competitor to the BBC, yes. BUT the BBC does need ITV to be strong, both for competitive reasons and to maintain the balance of power within British public service broadcasting. So I leave with the feeling that I have done the best I can to secure the future of the institution about which I will always care so deeply, I leave with some sadness because of all the friends old and new who have been my support over the past two and a half years. What I won't miss is the BBC sandwiches at meetings. They have taken re-cycling to new heights. But I digress ...

In a speech I made when I was CEO at Channel 4 I included the words: 'It's the BBC that keeps the rest of the industry honest.' That is as true today as it ever was. I am off to a new challenge, maybe at 63 my last real job, and hopefully give you a run for your money. That's how it should be. Look after Auntie, I am sure you won't need me again. And thank you for having me.”

The only time I saw Michael Grade face to face was at the Quiz the Governors accountability meeting in Belfast in April. He did come across as being more of a programme maker than a bureaucrat. He was much more comfortable explaining to the audience about camera and teleprompters—the mechanics of the night and being in a live studio—and justifying the broadcaster’s output to the NI audience.


John Self said...

Which will mean Michael Grade has run all the terrestrial broadcasters over a period of 25 years (we'll ignore Five - everyone else does). Not bad really.

Can he bring it back from the brink though? The only thing I watch on ITV at the minute is X Factor. They did well with their reprises earlier this autumn of Cracker and Prime Suspect, but these are one-offs. One of the difficulties is that ITV's market for too long has been, not to put too fine a point on it, the lowest common denominator: shrieking game shows, identikit tec drama, and so many soaps the suds are coming out of your ears. No comedy. No documentaries (Tonight with Trevor McDonald? Don't make me laugh!). This market has been fragmented by multi-channel TV in a way the BBC's market hasn't.

The other problem is that ITV's primary master is not the viewer but the advertiser. If shows don't get high enough ratings, they're cancelled sometimes after one episode. How does that build viewer loyalty? At Christmas ITV basically gives up, because it knows there's no point in getting big audiences in when the advertisers can't sell stuff to them because the shops are closed.

The solution? Well, pay me Michael Grade's salary and I'll tell you...

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Jemima Kiss at Media Guardian's Organ Grinder quoted part of this posting.

John Self said...

Cool, fame at last! Just make sure you keep talking about meeja stuff for the next couple of weeks to establish a foothold in the Guardian bloggers' bookmarks...

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

> If shows don't get high enough ratings, they're cancelled sometimes after one episode.

Like ITV's Making Waves. A promising drama, that was up against some strong competition, so never got beyond 4 million viewers and then sank without a trace. And the committment to the 4 million viewers? They never showed the second half of the series. Not even late night. Just canned it. Leaving (at least some of the) 4 million wondering what happened? How did the storylines resolve?

Maybe Grade can stop some of that.

Commission quality shows. And show them. Each episode twice if need be.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I can't resist posting this quote from an article in yesterday's Observer:

"After weeks of secret talks Grade emerged from his home last Tuesday morning to be met by an army of journalists. Unfortunately, the BBC had sent its crew to his old address and failed to get pictures of its outgoing chairman climbing into his car - much to the amusement of rivals at ITV News. In many ways it summed up the BBC's week."