BBC Touts 15 Percent Reduction in Talent Pay

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BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead

BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead will also tell an industry convention in Oxford that spending on top-earning on-air talent has declined by 29 percent, but the public broadcaster needs to do more.

The BBC has reduced its spending on pay for top-earning on-air talent by 29 percent over a five-year period and overall spending on talent by 15 percent, BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead will tell a British industry conference on Wednesday.

The savings that she is set to highlight at the Oxford Media Convention were calculated in an independent review ordered by the Trust, the U.K. public broadcaster's governing body. It covered the period from fiscal year 2008-2009 through the fiscal year 2013-2014.

The report cited a 32 percent reduction in the number of on-air talents to 46,061 with spending down to $288 million (187.5 million pounds) from $340 million five years earlier.

The review by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates found no evidence that the BBC was overpaying its hosts and performers in comparison to the broader British TV market and that its level of talent pay scrutiny compares favorably with other broadcasters amid increased competition for talent. It also concluded that the BBC has made "vast improvements" to its processes for managing talent pay, including "a more relaxed approach to exclusivity," the willingness to let top talent leave and "detailed scrutiny of talent deals."

"The Trust recognizes that the outstanding people onscreen and on-air are at the heart of the BBC," Fairhead will tell the industry convention. "At the same time we are clear that the BBC has a responsibility to spend public money wisely in its approach to talent pay. Today's report shows that the BBC has made great strides in reducing talent costs, and it's clear this has been achieved without affecting quality."

Talent costs have been in focus at the BBC in recent years. In 2009, the Trust asked the BBC executive board to reduce spending on talent.

Amid the increasing competitive pressures in the talent space, "the BBC needs to build on its progress — so that it does more to develop new talent, can demonstrate optimum value in its deals and knows when to walk away," Fairhead will say on Wednesday.

Oliver & Ohlbaum has made a number of recommendations for further improvements, including further improvements to the BBC’s use of data on talent deals, so that there is a clear understanding of what it gets for its money, clarifications on the use of expected and maximum prices the BBC will pay, improvements to talent development and succession planning and improvements to the monitoring of diversity.

The review found that the BBC is doing well in terms of nurturing and developing talent. It highlights that 67 percent of the broadcaster’s current talent in factual, lifestyle, entertainment and comedy programs got their first break at the BBC, and 89 percent had their previous show at the BBC. Even 49 percent of the talent at U.K. TV giant ITV started their careers at the BBC, according to the report.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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