Mind the Gap: BBC Pay Crisis Shakes U.K. Television Biz

By Clarke, Stewart | Variety, July 25, 2017 | Go to article overview

Mind the Gap: BBC Pay Crisis Shakes U.K. Television Biz


Clarke, Stewart, Variety


THE BBC LIT A FIRE under the British television industry when it published the earnings of its top talent by name. The data dump revealed that two-thirds of BBC stars earning more than £150,000 ($195,000) are men. When it comes to age, the picture is even worse: Four times as many men over 50 fall in that salary bracket as women over 50. Ethnic minority stars are also severely underrepresented.

The BBC was forced to release the figures by the British government. Under pressure, director general Tony Hall pledged to give women equal pay and airtime by 2020 but said on July 23 that he would try to reach that goal even earlier after 40 senior female staffers, in an open letter, called on him to "act now."

While many cheer Hall's commitment, it's questionable whether the rest of the industry will follow suit, despite the influence the BBC wields in the U.K. broadcasting landscape.

Ironically, the gender pay blowup erupted the same week that ITV named Carolyn McCall as its first female CEO. Fellow commercial broadcaster Channel 4 has also appointed a woman, Alex Mahon, as its next boss. Indeed, the U.K. TV business has plenty of powerful female leaders behind the scenes, but on screen women lag behind in the salary stakes.

"We always hope things have changed, and it's disappointing when you find out they haven't," said Lilla Hurst, who has worked for broadcasters and independent producers and now runs funding and distribution agency Drive. "A lot of women in media feel they can't ask for more money."

However laudable the goal, measuring the BBC's progress in achieving parity by 2020 could prove difficult. That's because many of the shows with highly paid talent are moving to the Beeb's new production arm, BBC Studios. As a private commercial entity, BBC Studios does not have to, and will not, disclose pay details.

Neither do the BBC's rivals, which makes evaluating the full extent of the gender pay gap throughout the industry, let alone eliminating it, a very tough proposition. "The BBC spawns creativity and pays less than the commercial broadcasters," said Jon Thoday of Avalon Entertainment, who has negotiated some of the biggest talent deals in British TV "The government should have made them divulge figures too. By excluding the indies, Channel 4 and ITV, they have removed the marketplace from the discussion, and that was a mistake."

Channel 4 commissions its programs from independents and says talent pay is a matter for those producers. ITV said all employment contracts are confidential.

Sky is squarely set against releasing numbers. "It's not something we're going to be doing," said Zai Bennett, director of programming for Sky U. …

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