Following the news that Niall Sloane, executive producer of F1, has quit the BBC, I saw on the Guardian media website that the BBC has appointed Ben Gallop as head of F1.
I’ve asked around and apparently he comes from the online side of the media business rather than TV and has no F1 background. Mark Wilkin, who is the editor of the F1 programme will report to him. Mark does have a strong F1 background and is also a very experienced producer/director. He held the same role when the BBC last had F1 in 1996.
There seems to be some confusion among people who’ve left comments on the site about how these two roles work, so let me explain.
An executive producer is generally a senior figure who oversees a programme, he has the major say in who is appointed in the presentational roles, argues with the network bosses for more budget and airtime for his show etc. He can often be executive producer on a number of different programmes, as Niall was with his Match of the Day position.
He is often someone who has extensive programme making experience, so knows what it’s like to be at the coal face, but has risen to a senior position where he does not actually put the programme together. He has the authority to tell the editor he wants to see less Lewis Hamilton or more on Ferrari, but often exec producers just leave the editor to get on with it.
As the BBC’s new offering is based as much on the online and interactive stuff as it is on the TV element, appointing someone with extensive online experience makes some sense and it shows which way the BBC thinks the media is going that a non-TV person can take on this role.
Remember that the coverage of the race itself is done by Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM TV operation, a scaled down version of the team who made the digital pay per view service of the early 2000s, which was briefly broadcast on SKY. BBC will just be doing the bit before and after the race and sticking a commentary on the race itself.
Niall will stay on for the first two races of the 2009 formula one season before departing in mid-April. There is currently a vacant role for head of sport at ITV and as they have a lot of football contracts it’s a fair bet that Niall will go for that job.
It’s not ideal to lose the man who put the team together, but it will not disrupt their preparations too much, in my view.