BBC Two controller Roly Keating came to the job from a traditional BBC route, but has also headed up UKTV and the BBC’s suite of digital channels. Julian Clover reports
Roly Keating is a modern public broadcaster. As the controller of BBC Two he has for the past four months found himself in the dual role of controller of both BBC One and BBC Two following the departure of Peter Fincham after that incident with The Palace. Keating came to BBC Two in June 2004 as the launch controller of BBC Four, before that he oversaw the BBC’s portfolio of digital channels, and launched the original UKTV channel portfolio. In between he has been the editor of key BBC strands including Bookmark and The Late Show.
Under Keating BBC Two has regained character, holding its own in the multichannel age, and bringing forward strands and programmes including Coast, Springwatch and Extras. Speaking to the Broadcasting Press Guild this week, Keating described the Jekyll and Hyde existence of his office; a table for BBC One meetings, a sofa for BBC Two. “BBC One is like a big stadium, where you want to have a crowd gathering for a communal experience, BBC Two is like a bustling, busy piazza, still busy and sometimes very crowded indeed, there’s variety there and sometimes sideshows and the sense of the unexpected.” Keating says they are both versions of what a mainstream channel should feel like.
“We agonise over channel by channel issues, but it’s striking how strong these portfolios of channels are. In a sense broadcasters have been quite adept at acknowledging channel fragmentation, but trying to consolidate as well. If you look at it all the broadcasters’ portfolios have actually grown in the last year and the BBC still has 36% of audience share in peak and that’s quite a responsibility.” Keating says there is no doubt that fragmentation is taking place and that audiences are behaving differently to the way they were ten years ago.
“We’ve gone from the very rigid brand duopoly days, but enough of that strength remains for the big channels to be potent and exciting,” says Keating. “Never again will you have the huge audiences across mainstream TV, but it feels robust and it feels lively, the talent’s still coming to us and the audiences are still there if we set out to reward them properly.”
BBC Two was an early mover in broadband delivery. The Apprentice, hosted in the UK by Amstrad-founder Sir Alan Sugar, was streamed online. Keating says he though he was being innovative, but it turned out the audience reaction was more of a “where were you?” He gave the example of the recent Sunday night Louis Theroux documentary on San Quentin State Prison that had received several hundred thousand viewings. “These are figures that are significant in terms of broadcasting for a single showing. I don’t know where it’s heading, but my instinct is that these are not substitutional, but additional, and in a quiet way it feels like a proper revolution in people’s habits.”