New Director-General: Plain-speaker with big job of raising morale

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The Independent Online
GREG DYKE'S corporation is likely to be a happier place than the BBC presided over by Sir John Birt. The millionaire 52-year-old is a far better communicator than his predecessor and he needs to use his skills to make his staff feel loved.

Morale levels at the corporation have hit rock bottom after years of cost-cutting and casualisation. Management reforms have seemed to put policy wonks ahead of programme-makers.

Much of what Sir John has done has been necessary, and Mr Dyke will not turn Broadcasting House back into a senior common room. But the Hayes grammar-school boy is a much more direct thinker and talker than Sir John; the latter has been lampooned as a Dalek who spouts management jargon, while the former has even presented his own programmes on screen.

Mr Dyke is likely to strip out the large corporate centre and policy department which eats up pounds 60m of licence-fee payers' money a year, yet makes no programme.

The kinds of programme are unlikely to change radically. Mr Dyke has told the governors that he will continue the BBC's traditional balancing act. The corporation needs to uphold its public-service remit while trying to reach as much of the audience as possible with some populist output.

In recent months, the pendulum has swung towards a greater commitment to highbrow, distinctive programmes as a way of countering the competition from a reinvigorated ITV and increasing numbers of pay channels. Mr Dyke, whose background is in popular programming, may let the corporation's programme-makers drift back towards populist shows if they can make them distinctive.

Greg Dyke's background as a fan and director of Manchester United Football Club and presenter of a sports series, may mean a renewed commitment to holding onto or winning back sports rights. The corporation will still be hampered by finite funds, whoever is director-general, but the sports department is likely to feel more important than recently.

An immediate decision needs to be made about the size of the commitment to non-core services. The board of governors backed Sir John's strategy of moving funds from BBC 1, 2 and home news, to pay for digital channels such as News 24 and BBC Choice. So Mr Dyke will not be able to throw this strategy to the wolves, but he will have the power to decide whether more money needs to be spent on peripheral services when there is as yet no audience there for them. BBC World, the commercial news channel, is losing money and Sir John may have decided to merge it with News 24 by the time Mr Dyke arrives.

The most important task awaiting the new director-general is convincing the Government that the BBC will need more funds if it wants to compete in the digital age. This will shape what kind of BBC he presides over.

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