BBC Sounds controller Jonathan Wall refuted claims that the BBC is “haemorrhaging talent” as he announced a series of new big-name podcasts featuring the likes of Emily Maitlis and Chris Kamara.
He told The Podcast Show in London on Wednesday that the BBC had invested a record amount in podcasting in the past year and that this “will only increase”.
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His comments came the day before the BBC announced a round of linear TV and radio cuts worth £200m a year over the next few years in an attempt to become a “digital-first” broadcaster. In total the annual savings and reinvestment will be worth £500m.
Wall told the conference: “There’s a story that irritates me about the BBC about how we are haemorrhaging talent at the moment. I think we announced today a series of big talent announcements showing we’re absolutely committed.”
Wall added: “There’s lots of talk about money right now in terms of licensing funding and revenue, but to be clear this year was the biggest ever investment in podcast-first programming and that investment will only increase. And we worked with dozens of companies.”
He went on: “But to be really clear, we want to work with the best companies with the best talent and the best ideas. Yeah, there’s been a movement of talent. I wish [Mark] Kermode and [Simon] Mayo all the best after 21 years at the BBC, some of the best people I’ve ever worked with.”
The BBC has been series to a number of big-name departures in recent months, including Andrew Marr leaving for LBC and The New Statesman, Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel joining Global to launch a daily podcast, and Dan Walker to head up 5 News. Former hosts of Film Review on 5 Live Kermode and Mayo launched their own new podcast this month.
However Maitlis (pictured) is returning to the BBC to host a podcast for Radio 4 called The People Versus J. Edgar Hoover, Wall announced.
Wall said: “Again, there’s Emily Maitlis, a talent going off to do new things but is back as the host of a fantastic program we’ve got called The People versus J. Edgar Hoover, all about the director of the FBI and the perhaps too much influence he had.”
“I suppose my point is we can and do want to work with good talent. It’s easy to have a headline about the BBC and NPR not succeeding, asking what role are we playing in that game. We’re proving that we can play a big role in this,” he added.
“It’s hard from the conversations of the industry now around talent, given how competitive it is and how we have to think about retaining talent and winning in this space.”
Other new podcast launches at the BBC will include Unbelievable, a new football podcast launching in the summer presented by former Sky Sports presenter Chris Kamara and Good Morning Britain presenter Ben Shephard, and a series led by popstar Sam Smith titled A Positive Life: HIV from Terrence Higgins to Today.
Wall’s comments came the day before the BBC announced a series of cuts including making CBBC and BBC Four online-only in around three years, merging its international and national news channels and cutting some local programming, including regional current affairs programme We Are England which launched just five months ago. Up to 1,000 jobs could be lost in total.
The move also saw increased investment in digital content for iPlayer and BBC Sounds, with a focus on increasing the amount of news and current affairs content on both platforms.
Davie told staff on Thursday: “In audio, we will accelerate digital growth, moving more of the 34 million people who listen weekly to linear radio stations to become habitual users of BBC Sounds. We want Sounds to remain one of the top two digital audio services in the UK.
“To make this happen, we are reorganising all our network radio commissioning to work better as speech and music portfolios, bringing broadcast and on-demand content together. We will simplify some schedules and cancel some shows where linear and on-demand performance is not delivering.”
At the start of the week Davie told a House of Lords committee he was “sure” more job cuts would be needed at the broadcaster and indicated podcasting content could be at risk by saying: “…we don’t need every single podcast we make, there are choices we have to make.”
Picture: The BBC