Ashley Highfield: My Life In Media

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The Independent Online

Ashley Highfield, 40, is the BBC's director of new media & technology. After holding key posts with PWC Consultancy and NBC, he went to work for pay-TV operator Flextech (owner of UKGold and LivingTV) becoming MD of all their Interactive businesses, before moving to the BBC. He is responsible for the corporation's entire web presence. Although a string of BBC websites were axed in 2004 following the Graf report, new media is expected to be one of the beneficiaries of Mark Thompson's extensive cost-cutting programme.

What inspired you to start a career in the media?

The desire to get out of my previous career in consulting! I've always been involved in technology, and the emergence of the internet in the mid-1990s was an obvious career calling. NBC offered me the break.

When you were 15, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?

At 15 I was at boarding school in the Channel Islands, so the daily fare was the not terribly globally facing Guernsey Evening Press.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I used to watch The Professionals, Top of the Pops, and every breaking-news bulletin, Panorama and Brian Hanrahan special on the Falklands War that I could, while avoiding revising for my O-levels.

What's the first media you turn to in the morning?

I listen to the radio on the drive in to work - Radio 1 or 4 usually. I leave the easy listening and my iPod for the drive home. Once I'm at my desk, I log straight on to bbc.co.uk for news throughout the day.

Do you consult any media sources during your working day?

Apart from the net, which I am constantly surfing (the BBC, plus Google and Guardian Unlimited), I have the TV on in my office. I try to see what our friends at Sky are up to - not just the news coverage, but also their interactive services. I also read the BBC's own press cuttings, which admittedly gives a rather warped view on what's happening out there.

What's the best thing about your job?

The gadgets I get to play with - when they work. And the lovely people, of course. I'm not 100 per cent geek.

And the worst?

The gadgets when they break... and the people.

What is the proudest achievement in your working life?

The fact that 17.1 million people in the UK find something of value at bbc.co.uk or on BBCi every month.

And your most embarrassing moment?

While I was working for Coopers, I was called up on stage in front of 500 colleagues as an example of how not to dress as a consultant, and was then ridiculed from head to toe. I won a similar "Worst-dressed man at Flextech" award, so clothing is clearly not my strong suit.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I don't watch much telly. We Sky+ quite a lot though, so I catch up on some of it during the week. Top Gear and F1 are the only appointments to view, but I also usually watch The Apprentice , Dragons' Den, QI, and Doctor Who when they are on.

What is your Sunday paper and do you have a favourite magazine?

I get The Sunday Times, reading Home first, then Driving, then News Review. I think that the Doors internet section badly needs a boost. As for magazines, the latest copies of Condé Nast Traveller, Car and Evo are always beside the loo!

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

To help bring about the end of broadcast media as we know it.

If you didn't work in the media, what would you do?

If I had had the necessary talent, I would have loved to have been a Formula 1 racing driver.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and Pixar. He revolutionised the home computer industry with Apple, reinvented film animation with Toy Story, and transformed the music industry with iPod. 'Nuff said.

The CV

1988: Joins Price Waterhouse Coopers, working his way up through several positions to be principal consultant in Communications and Media division

1995: Takes a job at NBC Europe as head of IT and new media.

1996: Leaves NBC to work full-time as executive vice president and general manager at Flextech Interactive, becoming MD Flextech Interactive following the merger with Telewest in 1999

2000: Appointed BBC director of new media & technology

2004: Named most influential man in technology by the online technology news site Silicon.com

2005: Credited with increasing BBC's reach online and on interactive TV users tenfold in five years

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