Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Entertainer at War - Jonathan Webb, Managing Director, Virgin Media Television

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Entertainer at War - Jonathan Webb, Managing Director, Virgin Media Television

Article excerpt

Television can be a bitchy world - one in which Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan, a former Unilever marketer, is famously derided as 'the margarine man' whenever his station gets bad press. Jonathan Webb, Virgin Media Television's managing director and another former marketer at the FMCG manufacturer, must be hoping that the impending launch of Virgin 1 achieves a level of success that will spare him the moniker 'the detergent man'.

The prosperity of the general entertainment free-to-air channel, which is due to launch in the autumn, will be vital to the TV platform, whose stand-off with Sky over carriage fees has resulted in its loss of flagship entertainment channel Sky One.

Educated in the rarefied environment of Hereford Cathedral School, followed by a place at Durham University, on paper Webb cuts an unlikely figure among TV's trendy elite. But with his shaved dome, fashionable glasses, linen suit and home in Brighton, the 39-year-old father of two is the epitome of the modern television executive. Entertaining company, he wears his undoubted intelligence lightly, famously dressing up as David Bowie for an unconvincing turn at last year's Edinburgh TV Festival.

It was while at Durham, where he studied politics and sociology, that he was attracted to marketing. After taking control of the University Wine Society in what he describes, with typical flamboyance, as 'a coup d'etat', Webb claims to have turned the society into the UK's biggest student organisation by the use of what he describes as a 'direct marketing' campaign and alliances with the local off-licence.

After graduating, he joined Unilever, where he worked on Jif and Persil, before landing a job at a TV company - albeit the minnow-sized Family Channel - as head of marketing. 'I had a calling for entertainment. I wanted to work in a creative environment,' he says.

When the channel was bought by Flextech, the content arm of Telewest, Webb elbowed his way into a programming role, first as director of programme strategy, where he focused on bringing a sense of brand to the channels, and then as programme director in charge of what was by then the former Family Channel, having rebranded as Challenge.

When he took over Bravo, he identified a niche in the market and, in a bold move, positioned it as a channel for men, who he thought were not served well by any other channel. …

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