Media: The Word on the Street

THE RACE to be next director general of the BBC is hotting up. It emerges that the chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, would like to appoint someone by next June to ensure a smooth takeover when Sir John Birt steps down in 2000.

Step forward young Matthew Bannister, last week elevated to head of BBC production, the top job in television. Sir Christopher has made it known that he sees Mr Bannister's appointment as part of the management structure that will take the BBC into the new millennium.

Channel 4's Michael Jackson may be the stronger candidate, but Mr Bannister is bagging the inside lane.

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ADVERTISING EXECUTIVES, it turns out, are just too funny for ordinary people. At least, their humour is often above the heads of their female audiences.

New research by ad agency J Walter Thompson shows that women love the simple humour of Gary Lineker refusing to share his Walkers crisps with schoolboys, but they are perplexed by a Salon Selectives shampoo ad which parodies traditional shampoo commercials.

"The women took it literally," says an insider, "they didn't realise that the absurd big hair was a joke."

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UNION EFFORTS to blame last week's mass redundancies at The Observer on former editor, the brainbox Will Hutton, are not being accepted gratefully by his replacement, Roger Alton. Pinning the responsibility on one individual is most unfair, he says - and Mr Hutton, above, has been a very positive force for the paper. The bottom line is that Mr Hutton stays as editor- in-chief but must feel somewhat uncomfortable on the newsroom floor knowing that the staff resent his presence.

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IT'S ONLY a week or so until the BBC launches its "News Review", a strategy document that has been an age in the making. It's dominant message, we understand, is that viewers should brace themselves for a dose of "seriousness" as, in the digital age, it is the Beeb's gravity which distinguishes it from its rivals. Sobriety alone, though, is not enough. Each BBC outlet from Radio 1 to BBC 2 will be asked to customise the serious message to suit its audience. Grim faces all round.

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THE WHITE Dot anti-television lobby group has a new theme campaign - the idea that Rupert Murdoch's Sky digital television should be renamed "Spy", as it will prey on young children. Once interactivity arrives, parents should tell their offspring "if someone on TV tells you they're your friend, or they want to know everything about you because they like you, or they missed you the other day when you didn't watch the show - you tell me. They shouldn't say things like that." It's a whole new variation on "don't talk to strangers".

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ADVERTISING agencies say they are somewhat unimpressed by the first wave of promotion for digital television. "By selling the technology, the BBC and others are selling something they don't need to sell," says Simon Parker of STS research.

"People don't want to know about the technology, they only need to know what's on it. It's a bit like when microwaves were launched. They were sold on the basis that you could cook a five course meal in 20 minutes, but no one ever used them for that." Quite.

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ARE THE Barclay brothers genuinely trying to sell the troubled European newspaper, or do they just want to close it down? Staff last week were struggling to make sense of their situation after a sale to Time Warner collapsed, and wondered whether they should just give up. In the end they decided to put the paper out, spurred on by editor, and former MP, Gerry Malone. "Malone scored his first brownie points with staff since he's been here," says an insider. "He was at least around during the redundancy announcements." Unlike editor-in-chief Andrew Neil who was nowhere to be seen.

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