Media Analysis: Chopping and changing

Tim Davie is joining the BBC at a time of tight budgets and increased operating restrictions, writes Colin Grimshaw.

Only 13 months have passed since the BBC spectacularly fell foul of its Government paymaster following Lord Hutton's damning report. But now the Beeb can discard the sackcloth and ashes and repent no more, for the events of past week have evidenced a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes.

Post-Hutton, culture secretary Tessa Jowell warned that the report would feed into the corporation's charter renewal process. Yet her approval of a new 10-year charter from 2007, retaining the licence fee with only cosmetic changes to the BBC's management structure and accountability, testify to the considerable persuasive powers of its new chairman of governors Michael Grade and director-general Mark Thompson.

Jowell's Green Paper proposes that the board of governors should be axed and replaced with a 'more transparent and accountable' BBC Trust. Since this will be headed by Grade, with its directors, like the governors, constituted from society's 'great and good', and its activities will not be overseen by an independent regulator such as Ofcom, it is hard to see any material difference.

The next 'new' level of management, an executive board headed by Thompson, will replicate the existing executive board, made up of BBC executives and a couple of non-executive members. So not much change there either.

Streamlining activity

Jowell fired a warning shot about chasing ratings with copycat programming, and said that BBC magazines should, in future, have a direct link to its programmes. So we can expect to see less of such shows as House Invaders, Trading Up and Fame Academy, while magazines such as Olive and BBC Good Food may soon follow Eve out of White City.

Other than that, it is business as usual, at least until 2016. In the lead up to the next charter renewal, Jowell says there should be another review of alternative methods for funding the BBC.

Coincidentally or not, the corporation chose last week to name its new marketing chief, nine months after Andy Duncan exited for the top job at Channel 4 (Marketing, 2 March). His successor, PepsiCo's top European marketer Tim Davie, is noted for instigating the rebranding of Pepsi from red to blue.

The appointment of a 37-year-old high-flyer from the same classic FMCG marketing mould as Duncan was a surprise to some. In December, Thompson outlined a streamlined vision for the BBC, which would see more investment in programming, funded by £320m of operational savings over the next three years, with 2900 jobs being cut.

Professional Services, which includes marketing, is to bear the brunt of the drive, with a 25% cut in budget and staffing. The impression that marketing was to be downweighted in the new vision was further fuelled by Marketing's revelation last week that the BBC is unlikely to renew its £10m contract for poster advertising on 1000 UK sites.

This would reduce BBC marketing activities largely to on-air trails - not a task, you might think, for a heavyweight FMCG marketer such as Davie, who took the BBC job after initially accepting and then turning down the ITV marketing director role last October. There is some surprise among TV marketers that the role didn't go to one of the senior BBC marketing executives that had applied for the job.

Jim Hytner, the former ITV marketing director who is now marketing chief at Barclays, thinks it a bold move to hire such a high-profile marketer as Davie. 'It is still a terrific job if you want to move into TV (from another discipline), but it's an interesting appointment, given that the BBC is rightly returning to a more limited marketing remit,' he says.

'And it's interesting that Tim took the BBC job over the ITV role. Hopefully, the BBC will embrace all he can offer.'

Others are less surprised by Davie's appointment. Polly Cochrane, Channel 4's director of network marketing, says that the size of the external marketing budget is irrelevant at the BBC. 'The advertising value of their on-air trails is at least £300m,' she claims. 'It requires some sophisticated marketing know-how to marshal and get the best from that huge resource.'

Digital priorities

Cochrane points out that Davie will play a key role in formulating BBC strategy and has some influence on programming decisions through his responsibilities for audience research, taking in most of the UK population. 'It's a more exciting and richer brief than marketing Pepsi,' she adds. 'That said, given all the work Andy Duncan did in reforming the marketing function and rebranding the channels, it will be harder for Tim to make his mark.'

But then Davie, who spent 12 years at Pepsi and had only one other employer, Procter & Gamble, doesn't appear to be the sort of marketer who looks to make a big, quick impact and move on. He is more likely to take a long-term view, according to David Pullan, formerly marketing and strategy director at Five, now managing director of FHM Worldwide.

As part of its charter renewal, Jowell has charged the BBC with ensuring a successful switchover from analogue to digital TV, scheduled to take place between 2007 and 2012. It is here where Pullan sees Davie making his mark. Selling Freeview boxes to the roughly half the country that doesn't yet have digital TV access will be key to a successful switchover, and the BBC has taken the lead in promoting the platform.

'If Tim can persuade the great swathe of middle England digital refuseniks to buy Freeview boxes, he will be a hero, not just at the BBC, but with the government,' says Pullan. 'Andy Duncan got the Channel 4 chief executive job not because of his skills in marketing the BBC and its programmes, but because of his pivotal role in the launch of Freeview.'

Furthermore, Pullan predicts that it will not be long before Davie's marketing remit, and budget, are restored to pre-Hutton levels: 'The BBC has got what it wanted; nothing has changed. Once charter renewal is out of the way, you can bet that marketing will again be a BBC priority.'

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