BBC reveals overall annual talent payment

$358 mil paid to artists, presenters, musicians

LONDON -- The BBC said it spent £229 million ($358 million) on talent payments to artists, presenters, musicians and other contributors in the year to the end of March 2009, with its top earners sharing a pot of £54 million ($85 million) of license fee payers' money, just over 1.5% of the total license fee.

The disclosure is the first time the BBC has ever given such detail of its fees, but the pubcaster has refused to bow to pressure to disclose individual salary deals, saying such information remained "commercially sensitive."

During the 12-month period the BBC spent £54 million on a roster of talent earning over £150,000 ($234,500) per head, but did not disclose how many individuals achieved this threshold. The group is thought to include such million dollar-plus earners as Jeremy Paxman, Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton.

The bulk of the fees, £115 million, ($180 million) or 3.29% of the license fee, went to individuals earning less than £50,000 ($78,000) from the pubcaster over the period.

The pubcaster's chief operating officer Caroline Thompson justified the payments, saying that talent was "central to the BBC's ability to deliver high quality and distinctive programming."

Her comments come just a day after BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons, who heads the pubcaster's management board, said the BBC should not overbid for talent and should let stars go if the were too expensive, in a bid to "regain a grip" on escalating costs.

But Thomson said the BBC had an important role to play nurturing new onscreen talent.

"The BBC engages some of the greatest performers in the world across television and radio, and also nurtures and develops people that will be at the heart of our programs in the future. They add to the credibility, expertise and creativity of the BBC."

As part of its new disclosure program, the pubcaster also published the expense and hospitality claims of its top 107 earners, which included taxi costs totaling £39,000 ($61,000) and entertainment costs of £23,000 ($36,000.)