Has the BBC played it too safe?
George Entwistle’s appointment as Director-General of the BBC, the most prestigious and important job in the UK media industry, looks like a safe appointment on the face of it. His CV follows the classic route to the top – a distinguished career in TV news and current affairs followed by a stint in charge of BBC Vision. He has a reputation for being good with people, which is not to be underestimated, but his challenge is a profound one: Will he be able to envision and secure a long-term future for the BBC as the leading provider of content in Western Europe?
The fears are that he is not enough of a digital bod to understand that for millions of its consumers, the BBC is now as much a provider of digital content as a TV broadcaster. Previous DGs, notably John Birt, have been pioneering in their support of digital initiatives. Entwistle will make all the right noises but does he see the BBC as primarily a broadcaster or something wider than that?
The DG’s job now seems to be more political than ever, too. It’s all about managing up, working effectively (and forcefully) with Whitehall to fight the BBC’s corner. Other candidates – such as Ofcom boss Ed Richards and BBC COO Caroline Thomson – seemed to have more experience in those circles. While Entwistle is more likely to relate to BBC staff, is it possible he is seen as a more pliable DG for the current government, who were said to prefer him as a candidate? He may need to win a few battles to assure critics he’s no-one’s patsy. But one thing is sure: As DG of the BBC, there will never be a shortage of battles to fight.