BBC marketing chief Tim Davie’s promotion to head of its £200m audio and music output marks the first time a marketer has landed one of the key programming executive roles at the corporation.
Some suggest the move from director of marketing, communications and audiences to director of audio and music is a stepping stone for the “fiercely ambitious” Davie; perhaps another rung closer to the “dream” media job of BBC director-general.
Others question why yet another media job with responsibility for programming has gone to an executive without any experience (Davie’s predecessor Andy Duncan faced the same criticism when he became Channel 4 chief executive). There have been rumblings both inside and out of the corporation that the “key” role of director of audio and music, vacated by Jenny Abramsky, is going to a “commissioning novice”.
Talent, but in the right way?
One media executive suggests it is a “questionable appointment”, adding: “Not because he isn’t talented, but because as the leaders of content you would think the BBC would want someone from a very strong broadcasting background.”
Yet friends and former colleagues, suggest the modern marketer’s breadth of skills and professionalism, coupled with Davie’s ambition and intellect make him more than capable.
Birds Eye chief executive Martin Glenn, who worked with Davie at PepsiCo, says it will be “a challenge” but that Davie balances being “very bright” with having the common touch. “Of course it’s going to be difficult, but his promotion says that they must feel he has good managerial qualities.”
Glenn adds: “The BBC ‘immune system’ will be gearing up to surround him and kill him, but I think he’s actually over that test because of the success he’s made of the marketing role.”
Davie will oversee the broadcaster’s radio networks including its digital radio stations, and will also be in charge of radio drama, television music entertainment and he will be strategically responsible for all audio across the BBC from September.
He joined the BBC in April 2005 from PepsiCo, where he was European vice-president of marketing and franchise. There, Davie was responsible for repainting Concorde in blue to herald the relaunch of Pepsi cans in the colour.
Andrew Marsden, ex-Britvic marketing director who dealt with Davie when he was at PepsiCo, says the differences between heading a marketing function and controlling a media company are not as different as people make out.
“Fundamentally, marketing people are aware of their markets and audiences,” he says. “They know what they need to do is provide audiences with what they want to listen to or want to buy. Most marketing people at a senior level are highly commercial.”
Perhaps so, but others suggest Davie could have struck further; that his promotion suffers in comparison with Duncan’s own chief executive move.
One agency insider says: “The BBC is a very difficult place to make a big impact in terms of marketing. What Davie has achieved probably isn’t on the same level as what Andy Duncan achieved. I don’t think he’s made as big an impact.”
Freeview vs iPlayer
Duncan staked his reputation on the success of Freeview, the digital television service he launched while at the BBC. Some believed Davie should have made more of his “Freeview moment”, after the successful launch of internet catch-up service iPlayer. Yet, as a rival television executive points out: “iPlayer’s success was a triumph of technology rather than marketing.”
And many in commercial radio will hope Davie’s marketing nous in his new role will lead to a renaissance of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), which has stalled because of high transmission costs and slow growth in revenue.
As RadioCentre chief executive Andrew Harrison says: “It’s an inspired appointment.”