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The real value of TV talent

04 August 2010

There’s never been an easy relationship between a star and the person, place or platform that created it. In the world of talent management, the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is that at some point the wheels will come off. Often spectacularly.

Last month, as TV agent to the stars Jon Roseman sold his story to The Daily Mail (across three days! With the revelation that some presenters are difficult! And also some execs!), we were treated to the most undignified spectacle of Christine Bleakley’s dithering over whether to accept ITV’s large cheque or the BBC’s. The three-way PR battle was so bitterly fought that, despite the man hours expended, all parties managed to come out of it looking greedy, petty, desperate and cynical. No mean feat.

Naturally the real loser will end up being the BBC. Not for the lack of Bleakley’s services, or even all-new-Daybreak’s impact on BBC Breakfast (‘dream teams’ have a patchy record on the transfer market) but because, as ever, any discussion about talent costs leads back to the perennial philosophical debate about the corporation’s role.

Right now, the BBC is politically too weak to do anything but roll with the punches. Its own elder statesmen (Terry Wogan and Bruce Forsyth for crying out loud) are publicly calling for restraint and its chairman Michael Lyons is demanding the corporation be more transparent about pay.

Previously the BBC has used one, very public refusal to enter into a bidding war to silence the debate. Jonathan Ross, Vanessa Feltz and Frank Skinner have all found themselves on the wrong end of a bolt for the moral high ground in the past.

This time, the tactic will not suffice. The debate will not die. And yet, the talent themselves have never been more powerful. In a digital age, as Jeremy Clarkson has irritatingly learned, the ability to congregate an audience around your persona alone is exponentially valuable.

The problem for all broadcasters, not just the BBC, is that very soon their prize assets might not need them at all. And then we’ll know what value for money really is.

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