Seismic restructuring shows times really are changing at the BBC

As the Corporation abolishes the job of channel controllers, Ben Dowell examines the thinking behind the move and the wide-ranging effects it could have...

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The BBC is about to undergo a major restructure, with BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore handed the massive new brief of ‘super controller’ encompassing all the Corporation’s broadcast TV channels as well as iPlayer.

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BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw – who admitted in her statement that she had been vying for the top job – is leaving the BBC at the end of the month.

The move was essentially about the BBC’s desire to streamline the heads of channels into one role, and the decision to make Moore Controller of TV Channels and iPlayer was the result of a two-horse race. Nobody else was interviewed, according to sources.

“The aim is simplicity – in structure, commissioning and having a united view across channels,” added the source of the new post, which essentially sees Moore in charge of more than £1bn worth of BBC commissioning money.

Prior to this massive change, the heads of comedy, entertainment, factual and drama took ideas from independent producers and the in-house production teams and pitched them to a channel controller – whether it was BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 or BBC4 – who decided if they wanted them.

Now Charlotte Moore will be the controller for all the main channels and the thinking is that she will be able to look at ideas and see where they may best fit. Something that might have been turned down by a BBC2 controller could in fact find a place on BBC4 or even the online BBC3, so the idea goes. The hope is she will have a greater oversight and strategic command.

“A project pitched as a BBC1 comedy could have a potentially better fit as part of a BBC4 season that, for example, Charlotte may be thinking about for the following autumn,” added another source. “That’s the general idea.”

Moore’s boss is the Director of Television, who is answerable in turn to Director General Tony Hall. Director of Television was the post departed by Danny Cohen last October – not yet filled and currently taken by entertainment controller Mark Linsey in an acting capacity. I have been assured that this job will remain. Meanwhile, Damian Kavanagh, boss of the soon-to-be-online BBC3 will be unaffected by the changes, at least in the sense that he will still be called Controller.

Shillinglaw is leaving, which will save some money (her annual salary was £227,800). But Moore (total remuneration £268,800) will be getting more in the next pay review. This reorganisation, however, is “less about efficiency and saving money”, say sources, and more about that streamlining of the commissioning process – although the Corporation does hope it will generate longer-term savings by bringing the channel teams together.

Shillinglaw’s departure is news in itself, though, and quite a seismic event for the BBC. She leaves on 26th January, with her plans still unclear. A factual specialist (she used to run science programmes) she was a highly capable, smart, well-liked and colourful controller of BBC2, who spoke in interviews of her desire for the channel to be bolder – or as she put it “to show its knickers a bit more”.

She certainly did this – with one of her achievements being to bring comedy at 9pm much more to the fore of her channel with successful shows including transgender comedy Boy Meets Girl, Danny Baker’s Cradle to Grave and Inside No. 9.

Moore, something of a more measured figure according to those who know them both, is also highly popular and respected at the BBC.

It has been said by some within the Corporation that there were tensions between her and Moore, with rumours of talent poaching between the channels and ructions at the top. The BBC would not comment on this.

But the fact that last year BBC1 and BBC2 scheduled two comedies which were essentially both memoirs of family life in the 1970s – Danny Baker’s Cradle to Grave on BBC2 and Emma Kennedy’s The Kennedys on BBC1 – suggests that there is, at the very least, not a great deal of joined up thinking between BBC1 and BBC2 at the moment. It is these kind of clashes that the Corporation is trying to eradicate with the changes.

In terms of the grander direction of the BBC, it is hoped that the new commissioning structure will fit into plans for its production base.

As RadioTimes.com suggested in October, one of the reasons for Danny Cohen’s decision to quit was the fact that his Director of Television role was due to be diminished – with the BBC’s new head of production Peter Salmon consolidating power over the Corporation’s not inconsiderable production base.

Already Salmon is responsible for the entirety of the Corporation’s in-house content production after being made head of BBC Studios last July. However, the BBC has further ambitions for the role and plans to bolster the reach and remit of the unit. Under these plans, which have yet to approved by the Government and the BBC Trust,  independent producers would be able to pitch for virtually all of the BBC’s output, with the Corporation’s 2,000-strong production base in turn freed up to pitch ideas to other broadcasters. 

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So a new BBC, a streamlined production unit, and even a Corporation making programmes for other channels. The times really are a changing for Auntie…