Are Talent Transfers Really A Drain?

Apologies for the silence here on the newsletter, I’ve been a little unwell recently (details here). Hopefully my posting will become a little more regular this year.

There’s been a lot of discussion here in the UK about the ‘talent drain’ from the BBC to lots of other operators. Indeed I’ve talked about stations swaps and whether talent is in control. The discussions have been reignited with Ken Bruce announcing he’s leaving Europe’s most popular radio show at BBC Radio 2 to re-appear in the same slot at Greatest Hits Radio.

Why-o-why Ken, lots of Radio 2 listeners wail, eager to blame it on those dastardly BBC bosses.

To all intents and purposes, it seems Ken’s swift departure was some clever wooing by Bauer (where some old colleagues reside) and perhaps a perception from Radio 2 that he wasn’t going anywhere. I hear his move was more about work flexibility than it was about cold, hard, moolah.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s a useful reminder that looking after talent is a multi-dimensional game and requires real skill and understanding to maintain successful relationships.

Let’s also not forget the real reasons there’s so much chatter about BBC talent. Firstly, the BBC is a well-funded competitor to the newspaper groups who never liked their encroachment onto the web and that’s before you even start with any political views that their owners may have. They like to write knocking copy, and even if the copy doesn’t knock, then the headlines normally do.

Secondly the BBC’s talent relations has been incredibly strained by the requirement of the Conservative government that its talent fees are published. Not only is this a poacher’s charter, as declared by the Corporation when discussions over it began, it also is massively embarrassing for the talent on it.

The BBC has helped itself a lot by managing to bump off any BBC Studios people from the list (that’s the telly folk), but it is left with news, radio and sport people on there. Is there perhaps a link that it’s these people that have mainly been moving?

Finally though, the big shift is that for many employees in news, radio and sport, there hasn’t historically been many places to go. Commercial radio’s national reach was limited and there weren’t really many other people doing news and current affairs broadcasting at scale.

Nowadays though there’s lots of well-funded places that these people can go – outlets that need talent to help define their offerings. Times Radio, Virgin Radio, LBC, talkRADIO/TV provide nationwide coverage, growing listener figures and more cash. It also offers talent more freedom to earn. If you’re a news presenter you might like to chair a boring conference for £10k. If you’re at the BBC, the press-induced hassle makes you unlikely to accept, even if you would quite like a new bathroom.

In addition, there’s also the ability for talent to create their own podcasts and go direct to consumer (or via an ad network like Acast). They keep the ad money, the touring, the merchandise and have editorial freedom. For the right talent, matching their broadcast fees isn’t hard – and they’ll likely be working for a fraction of the time and corporate grief.

Problems for the BBC?

Does this talent exodus matter much to the BBC. Well, in PR terms it’s not a great story, but the scale of the corporation’s TV, radio and digital operations means there’s many many people who can fill the jobs of those disappearing.

Radio 2 can lose a million listeners between RAJAR quarters and it’s hardly noticeable. Chris Evans took around 750k off to Virgin, Graham Norton less than half a million. Great gets for those stations, but not really something that troubles their previous motherships. Indeed, the losses may shave some money off of dwindling budgets.


I often talk about how companies who had high barriers to entry for new competition often thought it was their own skill that was generating audience/profits, rather than it being because the barriers meant they had little meaningful competition.

Digital has, in every sector, destroyed many of the barriers and if not, has at least made them surmountable. I would hope that teams at the BBC realised that this change in circumstances means they have to think about how they deal with talent. Previously there was nowhere else for them to go, so some managers could get away with dealing them in, politely, a sub-optimal way.

Today, the skills around talent management – for both people in-front of, and behind the camera/microphone – probably requires some brushing up. People leave for may reasons, but great relationships can temper many moves.


Last week I also returned to the Media Podcast. It was the perfect time to do it, as it was our predictions special with guests  Faraz OsmanTara ConlanAnn CharlesCharlotte TobittJake KanterDan Taylor-WattAdam Bowie and Maggie Brown. Just search for “Matt Deegan’“ in your app of choice, or click this link.

I spoke about this very topic to The Telegraph, as did my old chum, James Cridland. You can read it here, paywall permitting.

Before Christmas I spoke to Jim Salveson at Sound Business, talking about Facebook and YouTube’s approach to podcasting.

I’m pleased to be speaking at Adwanted’s The Future of Audio Europe event on March 1st.

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With Ken off to Greatest Hits Radio is the BBC talent drain really a thing?