BBC Boss Vows to Take Page From Silicon Valley Playbook

2:50 AM PST 08/27/2013 by Georg Szalai
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BBC director general Tony Hall

Promising a "bonfire of the boards, Tony Hall says in a newspaper editorial that "we need to tackle the BBC meeting culture" to ensure more creativity and entrepreneurial work.

LONDON – BBC director general Tony Hall has vowed to take a page from the playbook of Silicon Valley after meetings with U.S. technology companies last week.

In an editorial for the Daily Telegraph, he promised to cut down on the bureaucracy at the U.K. public broadcaster via a "bonfire of the boards" to speed up decision-making processes and make the company more creative.

"We need to be so much clearer on how we take decisions and who is accountable for them," Hall wrote. "We often spend far too long agonizing over decisions that other organizations have learnt to make much more efficiently. We will start by ensuring that, wherever possible, there is one identified person responsible for key issues and major projects. It sounds obvious, but it doesn’t happen now."

In addition, to empower BBC staff, "we need to tackle the BBC meeting culture, which eats time, dilutes accountability and hampers creativity," Hall said. "Over the coming months, I plan to halve the number of pan-BBC boards and steering groups. This “bonfire of the boards” should speed up decision-making and release some of the resources currently wasted on bureaucracy for programs."

Concluded the BBC boss who started his job in April: "A simpler BBC should mean a more creative BBC."

Hall late last week made a surprise appearance at the Edinburgh International Television Festival where he first mentioned that he had just met with Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Apple and start-ups.

"I came away inspired, but also with a number of strong conclusions," Hall wrote in the Telegraph. "There is a strong belief that the BBC is a world-beater. Everywhere I went, people told me that the BBC iPlayer is the best video player in the world. And everyone wanted to talk about the next [season] of Top Gear, Doctor Who, Sherlock or Top of the Lake. It would make you proud to be British, even if you weren’t the BBC director general."

But the BBC boss added: "The second is a tougher lesson: the way we do business at the BBC is not at the forefront yet. The best companies have cultures, structures and processes that empower their people to be creative. We have lots we can learn here."

For example, he highlighted that to launch an initiative, a Google employee had to speak to only two people, while at the BBC, the decision to launch the broadcaster's first e-book required conversations with more than two dozen people.

The BBC must particularly start to realize that it is "much better to kill off what had seemed like a good idea and be upfront about it than to work on, hoping it might come good," Hall concluded. He highlighted that the public broadcaster wasted nearly $155 million (£100 million) on a digital media project, which he ended earlier this year "because noone was prepared to call time on a failed idea."

Hall also once again vowed to make the BBC more diverse. After announcing initiatives to boost the number of women on-air, he wrote in the Telegraph: "Over the coming months, I want to look at what further measures we can take to recruit from black and ethnic-minority communities."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: georgszalai

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