Former DG draws on experience of overseeing New York Times’ transformation.

Mark Thompson has urged broadcasters to invest in their digital players and criticised the government’s PSB review for “feeling like a stuck record”.

Drawing on his experience as chief executive of the New York Times (NYT), the former DG urged PSBs to borrow capital in order to invest in the likes of engineers and data science.

Thompson, who was tapped by the newspaper in 2012 to lead its digital restructure and left earlier this year, said the PSBs must revolutionise to stand a chance of surviving.

“It’s like building a factory for electric cars – you can’t start with an internal combustion factor with a little shed on the side,” he said, speaking on an RTS panel earlier this week as part of the Steve Hewlett Scholarship series.

During his NYT tenure, Thompson ensured that more than half of the board comprised digital entrepreneurs, engineers and digital marketers, while it now has two engineers for every journalist.

“This is about persuading investors with a vision that there’s a good reason for positivity in these great brands,” added Thompson.

‘Like a stuck record’

Turning to the PSB landscape, the former DG and Channel 4 chief executive chastised the DCMS’ current PSB probe for “feeling like a stuck record” and failing to take an international viewpoint.

He praised Ofcom for understanding the scale of the challenge impacting broadcasters but insisted the same can’t be said for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

According to Thompson, a senior Ofcom official recently told him it is pointless getting the government to accept the “fundamental rethinking that is required”.

“We are dealing with global three-dimensional chess and the government is yet again getting out the noughts and crosses board and asking itself questions about an essentially lost world of broadcasting.”

Elsewhere in the session, titled The Commercial Channels and rise of VoD, Thompson poured cold water on the idea of a BBC SVoD.

“If you make the BBC a subscription service, you will discover it’s not the BBC anymore,” he said. “It would be like saying the NHS is now going to be a voluntary subscription service – the concept doesn’t work.”

Even if the BBC were to launch a subscription service, a study earlier this week predicted that it would face an annual shortfall of £700m per year compared to what it makes from the licence fee even under the most optimistic estimates.

News Source: Broadcast Now