Starship Enterprise: With 20 Years in Marketing, James Arnold-Baker Has Boldly Gone Where No BBC Enterprises' Man Has Gone Before

By Kavanagh, Michael | Marketing, February 15, 1990 | Go to article overview

Starship Enterprise: With 20 Years in Marketing, James Arnold-Baker Has Boldly Gone Where No BBC Enterprises' Man Has Gone Before


Kavanagh, Michael, Marketing


STARSHIP ENTERPRISE

With 20 years in marketing, James Arnold-Baker has boldly gone where no BBC Enterprises' man has gone before. Michael Kavanagh recounts his fruitful voyage "BBC" and "enterprise" are not two words which are normally associated in the public mind. Indeed, if some of the things that Government ministers say are to be believed, the two are a contradiction in terms. Yet, if there is one part of the corporation we are likely to hear more and more of, it is BBC Enterprises.

The arm of the Beeb responsible for maximising commercial tie-ins including publication of the Radio Times, BBC books, and rights sales, BBC Enterprises is probably sitting on the world's biggest goldmine of TV assets, as any Murdoch-style entrepreneur would appreciate.

As staff and management at the BBC reel from the latest funding cut--75m [pounds] a year over the next three years -- BBC Enterprises is the one piece of good financial news: a profit of 11.6m [pounds] on a turnover of 154m [pounds] with the potential for a lot more.

James Arnold-Baker, 46, chief executive of BBC Enterprises, is the man brought in a little over three years ago to turn BBC Enterprises into a marketing-led powerhouse. And, despite everything that is said about the BBC, he seems to be succeeding without making too many enemies. His modest office and a thoughtful listening manner suggests he is well cut out to cope with the hosts of touchy egos that inhabit the unwieldy corporation.

Adjusting to the shift from selling consumer goods with brewer Watney's and toy company Fisher Price has not caused too many problems either. His time at BBC Enterprises has seen the launch of a number of programme-related magazines such as the Clothes Show, Good Food, and Grandstand; the exploitation of programme stocks through video publications; the launch of night-time subscription TV on BBC2; and the expansion of programme-based merchandising and co-production deals with foreign broadcasters.

On top of this, Arnold-Baker has been working on the continuing revamp of BBC Enterprises' flagship title Radio Times. He insists that, despite the liberalisation of the programme listings market following the Broadcasting Bill, the Radio Times will remain a brand leader despite losing its monopoly on BBC listings.

His own job description for this pot pourri of commercial activity is "multi-media publisher". It is hard to think of a simpler description for the array of business that falls under the BBC Enterprises umbrella.

"The BBC is so large. It is the largest TV factory in the world, with the possible exception of NHK in Japan. And there are lots of opportunities that don't fit in with any particular division," he says. "It is deeply confusing. But there are publishing areas and related by-products that go across the BBC. There is a lot more synergy than there appears from the outside."

Since joining he has been able to "thrash out" clear objectives for BBC Enterprises, which often clash with the interests of programme makers and station chiefs.

First out of the door were loss-making projects, often promotional projects dumped on Enterprises rather than funded from clearly allocated publicity budgets.

"We want to be very different to the BBC in operational terms," he says. "We have to ruthlessly disregard anything that doesn't make money. But we still want to be as close to the programme makers as possible. That leads to lots of creative tension."

Externally at least, Arnold-Baker passes as the classic BBC "chap". He was educated at the blue-blooded public school Gordonstoun, and then went on to read geology at Oxford University. All the ingredients, one would have thought, for someone to go straight in to the clubby corridors of the BBC at an early age. But instead, Arnold-Baker took the opposite path and spent more than 20 years in the rough-and-tumble world of retail marketing. …

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