BBC chief to head New York Times

BBC director general Mark Thompson is heading to the New York Times.

Story highlights

  • Mark Thompson named president and chief executive of the New York Times Co.
  • Signals an attempt by the newspaper publisher to expand its business digitally and internationally
  • Thompson will decide whether to retain its Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune newspapers

Mark Thompson, the outgoing director-general of the BBC, has been named president and chief executive of the New York Times Co, signalling an attempt by the newspaper publisher to expand its business digitally and internationally.

Mr Thompson, 55, has led the BBC since 2004 and said he would step down after the London Olympics. He is credited with building the BBC into one of the world's biggest digital news brands while finding new revenue streams at its BBC Worldwide commercial unit. He most recently led the BBC's multimedia coverage of the Olympics, deciding to stream everything live online.

"Under Mark's direction, the BBC also became known as a place of constant innovation," Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of the New York Times, wrote in a staff memo on Tuesday. "Mark will work closely with the board and with me as we work to extend our own culture of innovation and transformation and as we continue to expand our reach both around the globe and on to new and emerging digital platforms."

Mr Thompson said in a statement that the New York Times had "immense future potential both in the US and around the world."

He will be stepping into a family-led company with a very different business model. The BBC is supported by a licence fee, worth £3.6bn last year, and profits from BBC Worldwide, which last year reached £144m on revenues of £1.09bn.

The licence fee was frozen in 2010 for six years. Under pressure to improve its content on multiple platforms while containing costs, Mr Thompson cut staff numbers at the BBC by more than 6,000 but faced resistance when he tried to axe services such as 6 Music.

Mr Thompson is expected to receive similar compensation terms to Janet Robinson, who left abruptly last December. Much of Ms Robinson's controversial $24m exit package stemmed from pension benefits accrued over 28 years.

Mr Thompson, who started at the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee, "still considers himself a journalist", one person close to him said: "He can still knock 800 words out in 45 minutes."

His tenure at the BBC featured clashes with News Corp, owner of the Wall Street Journal, one of the closest competitors to the New York Times in the US market. James Murdoch, former head of News Corp's UK newspapers, complained in 2009 that the BBC's "state-sponsored journalism" had a "chilling" effect on commercial rivals.

Mr Thompson turned on the Murdochs in 2010, arguing that "commercial and political forces" were determined to undermine the BBC's independence and warning that News Corp's plan to buy BSkyB would give it excessive market power.

Mr Thompson will be taking charge of a company that faces vast challenges amid the digital transformation upending newspapers.

The publisher of the New York Times and Boston Globe newspapers has registered success with the introduction of its paid digital subscriptions but faces steep declines in both print and advertising revenues.

The company is much smaller than it was under Ms Robinson after selling its television group, regional newspapers and a stake in the Boston Red Sox. It is in talks to sell its flagging About.com unit, and Mr Thompson will have to decide whether to retain its Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune newspapers.

Mr Thompson also will have to manage relations carefully with Ochs-Sulzberger family members who have not received dividend payments since 2009.

Mr Thompson will move to New York and start the new job in November.

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