Why do I have such a bad feeling about Highfield’s move to Kangaroo?

What message does it send when you hire the country’s top new media manager to run a start-up business in an increasingly lean and competitive industry? What are you saying when you tap the Executive Board of the nation’s state broadcaster (and one of the most important media owners in the world) for your joint venture’s new MD? What does paying half a million pounds per year (my guess: his BBC salary is 350K) to the top man at your fledgling IP TV business say about your priorities?

Is it a statement of ambition and substance? An aggressive line in the sand for competitors and partners? A gesture of confidence in the business model and the medium?

Or is it a defeated acknowledgement of the status quo? Are you really saying “don’t worry everyone, we’ve had a good look at this IP TV thing and it’s going to be just like telly”. Does it scream “we haven’t got a name, a business model or an audience yet and already our HR costs are totally out-of-control”?

Frankly I’m worried. I’m worried that rushing out and securing the services of the best new media executive in the land is not the confident prelude to a smooth launch and rapid ascent to profitability and fame but rather the last thing you do before people start adding the prefix “troubled” to the things they say about you—as in “Kanagaroo, troubled web TV joint venture, today announced the appointment of Ashley Highfield…”

I think this role was really the perfect opportunity to ‘skip a generation’ and reach out to the dozens of smart managers one or two layers below Highfield at the Beeb and in the commercial sector. I think that opportunity has been missed because Kangaroo is already a disaster waiting to happen: an almost unmanageable Euro-pudding of a joint venture with no visible path to profitability and a business plan that’s in free-fall. Hiring the industry’s top man (and, thanks to iPlayer’s triumphant launch, its streaming TV talisman) looked like a large enough and decisive enough gesture to silence the doubters. Fat chance.

Or am I just being negative?

Categorized as BBC


  1. Well… Highfield might be just the man for the job. He resisted the Flash iPlayer for as long as he could – despite everyone constantly telling the BBC that they should use Flash – until it was forced on him by the BBC Trust, who demanded that he serve Macs instead of serving the commercial interests of his pals at Microsoft with his DRM Download hell. Never mind the curious adherence to Real. And now he’s taking credit for iPlayer’s success?
    If he runs Kangaroo with the same lack of vision and understanding of new technology – never mind the dubious commercial bedfellows – then he’ll be looking for a job again by Christmas. A £1m/yr job running IT strategy for the NHS or HMRC, perhaps.

  2. Kangaroo needs someone with vision, proven track and big balls. Highfield is a safe bet to take that business forward. I keep reading blogs with various people all insinuating that ‘they’ should be the ones to take credit for iPlayer. Highfield made iPlayer reality, it was his vision and he fought long and hard to make it happen. The fact that he quit probably the best media job in the UK to become CEO of a high risk politically tricky JV start-up makes me respect him all the more.

  3. Interesting analysis. For the consortium, I think Highfield is not just the “safe pair of hands” mentioned in one of your comments but has direct experience of delivering this kind of service. BBC Worldwide will be the lead partner in Kangaroo so Highfield has direct experience of the issues surrounding internet TV rollout. It’s not that big a deal, adding a few more broadcasters’ catalogues. For Highfield, if anything it adds more strings to the bow. If you wanted to step back from the pressure of responsibility and the frustration that comes with trying to do good things but being hampered by regulators, then I’d imagine the commercial sector would be an attractive option – especially where the project is almost identical to iPlayer. Besides, is that a new little person to look after? – http://www.flickr.com/photos/58537323@N00/2407751333/

  4. Whilst I don’t doubt it was hard to get iPlayer out the door at the Beeb, I don’t think one should give too much undue “vision” credit. Lots of broadcasters have catch-up services, many of which launched long before the BBC’s.

  5. I suspect getting a catch up service out of the BBC’s door is probably harder than any other broadcaster. While it’s not the most imaginative choice nobody’s going to get sacked for appointing Ashfield. If you were a shareholder/stakeholder in one the parent companies who can you come up with that the rest of the holders would agree with and with a similar pedigree? Supremo of BBC Online is, and was, a poisoned chalice and Ashfield certainly had longevity when compared to his illustrious predecessors Who remembers Ed Briffa, Nigel Chapman or Mark Frost now?

    And another thing: who is this non-linking Richard Ashley and what relation is he to the big-balled Ashfield? We should be told.

  6. Hi,

    It’s good for the share-holders, it’s good for Ashfield -more money, less risk, know’s politics, sweet child, but, he won’t get equity like a normal start-up, doesn’t have the skill-set to improvise and use open-source; and british competitors and viewers will suffer if Project Skippy does for video in the UK what bbc.co.uk has done for straight UK content sites -dominate them.

    Hopefully, he might be able to act differently outside the direct BBC, be quicker and dynamic; more important will probably be the CTO, and maybe they won’t just pander to American behomoths like myspace and YT with syndication, but will it be worth their ROI to bother.

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  7. I agree with Mr Murphy that getting a catch-up service out of a corporation such as the BBC must have been like taking the mountain to Mohammed. I think the main reason iplayer is so popular is because of it’s name/brand – iplayer follows on from imac, ipod, iphone, ibook – anything with an i infront of it is immediately thought to be good, bound to be popular and something people like.

    Isn’t Richard Ashley a journalist?

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