Director-general: BBC losing talent in ‘red hot’ battle with streamers for stars

The BBC’s director-general has warned the corporation is losing talent in a “red hot” battle for stars and creators with rivals and streaming services.

Tim Davie pointed to Fleabag writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s deal with Amazon, thought to be in the eight-figure region, as well as Graham Norton’s departure from BBC Radio 2 to Virgin Radio, as well as other high-profile figures taking deals with GB News and Times Radio.

Addressing MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Mr Davie said: “We are losing talent. It’s not just people going to Times Radio and all those things, it’s also big deals being signed with the Phoebe Waller-Bridges.

BBC apprenticeships
Tim Davie (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“We are facing a situation where we are in a global game now. If you are a successful writer, actor or director, the demands on you have never been greater and there are possibilities for transformational wealth.

“The BBC needs to do things differently to other players – new talent and new writing.

“There is something wonderful about working in the UK, life is not just about money, it’s about the creative experience you get, it’s about making Normal People, some wonderful dramas, that ability to actually be on BBC One and have a big audience.

“These are things that make the BBC special, but over time there will be increasing pressure on us.”

Graham Norton on Virgin Radio
Graham Norton left Radio 2 to join Chris Evans at Virgin Radio (News UK)

Mr Davie said it is “red hot out there”, as global players such as Disney+ and HBO Max enter the market.

He added: “Making stuff is one thing but there is a strategic question for the BBC and the UK on how much IP (intellectual property) we own and create, not just being a making shop but an inventing and owning shop.

“It’s a real worry for us and we are in a fight.”

Discussing talent pay, Mr Davie said: “The long-term position is restraint and value, that does not mean year on year you’re going to get massive cuts.

“We have 22,802 contributors, the 72 earning over 150 represent 0.3% of the content budget and I know this can be awkward territory, but it’s a very small amount and we are in an incredibly inflationary market.

“We have lost people, Graham Norton has gone to Virgin Radio, we’ve lost people to GB News, LBC, they are being poached.

“I want to see continued restraint in offering exceptional value, we are not seeing a radical increase in these numbers but we are unashamedly wanting that top talent.”