Two weeks ago, the trade title Broadcast posed the question in its leader : “What has Channel 5 ever done to increase the plurality of TV?” The answer, of course, is that we presented the BBC governors with their two most outstanding candidates for the director general’s post.
That’s choice isn’t it? One of them didn’t get onto the shortlist – David Elstein, chief executive officer – and the other got the job – Greg Dyke, chairman. This says a lot about the influence of the BBC’s chairman and little about the independence of his governors. Most agree, that despite the process and not because of it, the best man won.
While many people have commented on what Dyke will do at the BBC, few people in the media world actually know him. Two years, 15 board meetings, and numerous Old Trafford half-time chin-wags, and I still don’t.
Although he is engaging and he’ll talk for hours, he is intensely private and follows his own agenda. Those at the BBC who mistake his charm for intimacy will soon have to think again. He may be a schmoozer, but he won’t be schmoozed.
As regards marketing, he is a believer of sorts. He’s certainly not as committed as Sir John Birt or Elstein, probably because he’s not that interested in it.
He once rang me at the weekend presumably to discuss a marketing issue, but at the end of an hour-long conversation, which focused solely around Manchester United, he hung up. Not only had he forgotten the actual issue, he’d forgotten he had one in the first place.
On the other hand, he understands marketing’s role within TV, understands the way it fits into a network and, in my time at Channel 5, has never questioned our new, irreverent approach. The good news for Sue Farr (my counterpart at the BBC) is that Dyke will not tolerate internal power struggles that lead nowhere. Some BBC programming executives believe that programme marketing (on-air, publicity, continuity etc) is still within their domain, or at least should remain under their influence.
Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5 are ahead of the game here and it shows on and off screen. While the other terrestrials seem sharper, the BBC, despite its fine marketing, seems slow. If the team is being hampered by too many “sell in” meetings and too much research, I suggest both will go once Dyke has settled in. He will give marketing a clearer run at maintaining and driving forward the BBC brand, a job it does well when permitted.
Conversely, I’m not sure Dyke will take kindly to the Beeb’s “100 Tribes” target audience breakdown. There’s only one tribe to follow in Dyke’s mind, and they won the treble last season. Anything that seemingly relies on science or research rather than instinct and reason will be treated with contempt.