Give staff who make hit shows a bonus round, says BBC boss

Makers of hit shows ‘need incentives’ to stay with corporation
  • @iburrell

The BBC’s director of television wants to give extra rewards to staff who make hit shows – over and above their Corporation salaries. Danny Cohen says he wants to look at “how we incentivise people” so that the BBC’s best creative minds do not abandon the organisation as soon as they enjoy success.

Mr Cohen’s comments come as the BBC, which is preparing its case for the renewal of its Royal Charter and licence fee funding, needs to show it can make shows which are not provided by the commercial television sector. There is a growing recognition that some of the BBC’s most popular and long-running programmes – including Strictly Come Dancing, The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den – will eventually have to be replaced with a new generation of formats.

“I think the idea that if you come up with a global hit, you should in some way benefit from that beyond your basic wage, doesn’t seem unreasonable,” Mr Cohen said in a new book called Is the BBC in Crisis? “I think if we want to bring in really smart people and generate [intellectual property] – which will end up making money that will go back into the licence fee – people participating in that, in order to get the best people, then we have to look at and examine what’s possible.”

Mr Cohen’s comments – made to the journalist Tara Conlan for an essay in the book, published on Saturday – are controversial in that they come at a time when the Director-General, Tony Hall, is attempting to implement £700m of savings as a result of the freezing of the licence fee in 2010. Lord Hall is due to make a speech tomorrow at the Oxford Media Convention in which he will defend the licence fee model.

But Mr Cohen has a duty to improve the creativity of the BBC’s in-house production teams and has set up a new central development unit. “I think we need to keep looking at how we incentivise people, and how we use Worldwide [the BBC’s commercial arm].

“We have to make some of our own heroes: you get young people who come in who have good ideas and they are very proud to work at the BBC,” he told Ms Conlan. “A great idea can come from someone in their early twenties. We’ve got to take some bets on new people and we’ve got to work on incentivisation.”

Rising star: Danny Cohen’s career

Tipped as a future Director-General of the BBC, Cohen made his name championing shows such as Skins and The Inbetweeners at Channel 4, where he was head of the youth-orientated E4 channel. He moved to the BBC to become controller of BBC3.

Under Cohen’s stewardship BBC3 grew its audience, partly thanks to the success of signature programme Russell Howard’s Good News, which was an early hit on the BBC iPlayer.

In October 2010 he was promoted to Controller of BBC1 and, during two and a half years in charge, strengthened its position as Britain’s most-watched channel.

His commissions included the criticallyacclaimed dramas Call The Midwife and The Village. To compete with ITV’s big Saturday night schedule he bought the talent show The Voice.

Cohen was promoted again in April 2013 when he became director of television under new Director-General Lord Hall. His £320,000 role puts him in charge of all channels, iPlayer and BBC Films.