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Brit TV execs to play musical chairs

'Who will replace Nigel Pickard?' has become a popular parlor game in U.K. children's broadcast circles following the CBBC head's announced departure from the net last month. Pickard is leaving the BBC early next year to re-join U.K. commercial net ITV as director of programs responsible for a budget of more than US$1 billion.
November 22, 2002

‘Who will replace Nigel Pickard?’ has become a popular parlor game in U.K. children’s broadcast circles following the CBBC head’s announced departure from the net last month. Pickard is leaving the BBC early next year to re-join U.K. commercial net ITV as director of programs responsible for a budget of more than US$1 billion.

While the Beeb is keeping quiet on the candidate front, a shortlist is emerging. So far, the most prominent name is CiTV head Janie Grace – an obvious choice for consideration, given her experience and the fact that she was up for the CBBC post the last time it became available.

However, industry observers think it will be difficult for Grace and Pickard to work together. Pickard led CiTV immediately before Grace and had an easier time in the job, not least because advertising revenue was buoyant.

Grace, meanwhile, has seen her budgets cut and may be glad to leave ITV for the infinitely more prosperous BBC, which is funded by a license fee and therefore does not rely on the vicissitudes of the economic cycle. Grace began her career at the BBC and has worked on various occasions for the pubcaster’s children’s department as a producer. Plus, she knows the BBC’s director general Greg Dyke quite well; the two were colleagues at Television South in the early ’80s, when Dyke was head of programs.

That said, with a budget of around US$150 million and two new digital channels, overseeing CBBC is the most powerful commissioning job in U.K. kids broadcasting, which should draw a fair amount of competition.

Other names being bandied about for the job include Channel 5′s head of children’s Nick Wilson; Cartoon Network UK’s VP of programming, development and acquisitions Finn Arnesen; Nick UK’s deputy managing director and director of programming Howard Litton and possibly ex-BBC Radio man Paul Robinson, currently VP and managing director of UK branded TV at Disney UK. All four are eminently qualified for the position, but Robinson’s repeated criticism that the BBC’s expansion into the digital market unfairly allows it to compete head-on with commercial rivals may count against him.

But U.K. broadcasting sources say that there’s also a chance that the BBC will promote someone internally, citing Dorothy Prior, head of programming at CBBC, as a strong contender. A veteran at the pubcaster, Prior is Pickard’s second in command and is intimately involved in deciding budgets and commissioning for the CBBC.

Notwithstanding who the BBC chooses, Pickard’s return to ITV could be good news for the network’s kids division. At the BBC, he repeatedly attacked ITV for reducing its children’s budget, arguing that well-funded competition is essential for a thriving kids sector in the U.K.

Pickard is regarded as the most successful children’s executive in British television, and ITV owners Granada and Carlton view his appointment to ITV as an inspired move. ‘ITV is a big beast, but Nigel is big enough to control it,’ said David Bergg, ITV’s director of program strategy.

Despite months of speculation, Pickard’s name had never once been mentioned as a potential successor to director of channels David Liddiment, who leaves ITV at the end of a grueling period that has seen confidence in Britain’s number-one commercial channel sink to an all-time low.

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