Ashley Highfield

Ashley Highfield66 posts

Ashley Highfield is a British media executive. After starting his career as a management consultant he worked in interactive TV before he was hired by the BBC in 2000. While at the BBC he oversaw the launch of the iPlayer, and grew the corporation’s online business. He is currently the CEO of Johnston Press, a regional newspaper publisher.

24 Oct, 2005
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No 1 in Marketing magazine’s Power 50

Other Awards

Highfield is awarded the top spot in Marketing magazine’s Power 50 selection. The magazine says:

The reason Highfield made number one in the Power 50 is that, so far, the BBC has not just made sense of digital but managed to drag its enormous self to the very front of its development. Highfield has led it there, while [Director General Mark] Thompson is a digital convert himself.

Highfield:

I wonder if it’s our place in the industry, which Tessa Jowell once described as the creative R&D for the nation. Whether we’re expected to innovate because we can, because we can take a long-term view on it or because we are funded differently; that we can be expected to take risks and try things out. And I think having the UK’s largest content web site, that’s got to be one of the reasons why we’ve got this huge role as a route to market. But I do hope it’s more the positive aspects of what we can do to help drive the industry – drive the market – than the 900lb gorilla that distorts the market…First and foremost is our audience, which is why we get the licence fee. You’ve got 16 million people (using BBC.co.uk), so we have an obligation to be there. It’s not something we can play around with any more. For me, number one is meeting these sometimes frightening audience demands, but not doing so in a way that distorts the market. Far from it. What we are trying to do is make sure that, in getting out to more and more people, we don’t end up dominating share.

18 Jul, 2005
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Guardian Media 100: No. 23

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 23 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

Highfield has had a much better year than last, when he was regarded as very much on the back foot after the government-ordered Graf report into the BBC’s online operations.While a string of websites have been shut as a result of Graf and the government’s green paper, Highfield’s new media department is expected to be one of the prime beneficiaries of director general Mark Thompson’s controversial plans to make annual savings of £355m.

20 Dec, 2004
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Plans to challenge Google

Interview

In an interview with The Guardian, Highfield says that the BBC has the potential to challenge Google.

We have got the best content in the world and a more flexible rights framework than anyone. We have the best brand, I would argue, online in the world in terms of trust and impartiality. We’ve also got access to some of the best technology in the world. If you glue all of that together we should be in a prime position to create the best next-generation search navigation tool in the world. We haven’t yet found out across all genres what new media can do. Where we have, like in education, the digital curriculum has become a great example of a product that owes very little to radio or television and is very much of the medium.

In response to the BBC governors’ response to Philip Graf’s review of BBC Online he has been required to cut funding by 10%, axing sites deemed not to pass the corporation’s new “public value” guidelines.

In order to free up the required funding we must start to behave more like television and radio, decommissioning sites or cutting back on funding, or even archiving them as circumstances change.

12 Jul, 2004
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Guardian Media 100: No. 33

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 33 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

Highfield, perhaps the BBC’s most consummate empire builder, has spent most of the last year on the back foot. In the run-up to the government-ordered Graf report into the BBC’s new media operations, he spent a great deal of time defending the BBC’s online reputation, commissioning KMPG to rebuff accusations that bbc.co.uk unfairly distorted the marketplace.

7 Jul, 2003
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Guardian Media 100: No. 25

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 25 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

The heat is being turned up on the Beeb’s internet activities after the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, ordered it to justify the £112m it spends each year on its online and interactive services…The Beeb’s less popular websites are facing the axe (including Crimewatch and Watchdog), while its focus on interactive TV will shift away from high-profile “events”.

12 Mar, 2003
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Announces 100 job cuts

Makes Statement

The BBC announces 100 job losses across its websites as it looks to control costs. Highfield says the corporation’s spending on the web will fall by £6m in the next financial year to £68m and by a similar amount the following year. After several years of explosive growth in staffing and spending, BBCi will only receive inflation-linked budget increases from now on.

We have strategically positioned the move towards interactive TV because we’ve seen how popular it can be and it reaches people that don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on the web…We’ve got to work out what people look at and what they don’t.

22 Jul, 2002
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Defends increased BBC web spending

Makes Statement

Highfield defends the previous year’s decision by the BBC to almost double the amount invested in the corporation’s websites. The corporation spent £100.4m on the internet last year, compared with £54.2m the year before. Including interactive television, the total expenditure rises to £111.6m. Highfield says future spending will be capped at 3%. Commercial rivals and some MPs have criticised the BBC’s spending, arguing it is using licence fee-payers’ money to provide online services already offered by the commercial sector.

Having arrived from the commercial sector, I’m always acutely aware of this. Whenever I think about where we’re going to put our money, I always carefully consider the consequences for the private sector. I trebled the amount we spend on nations and regions, increasing the number of Where I Live regional sites from 13 to 37. It doesn’t block out any commercial interest because most existing regional sites are heavily based on classified advertising.

A large proportion of the extra money was spent on upgrading the BBC’s server technology to cope with the increase in users following September 11.

Part of our original commitment was to encourage people to come on to the web and I think we’re doing that. Of the 500,000 visitors who used the Test the Nation site on the day of the broadcast, 300,000 had never visited the BBC site before.

2 Jul, 2001
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Guardian Media 100: No. 81

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 81 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

He will be judged on modernising the corporation’s attitude to digital media and reaching a young, tech-savvy audience, which the BBC is in danger of losing.

3 Oct, 2000
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Joins BBC

Hired

The BBC announces that Highfield will join the corporation as Director of New Media & Technology, starting in October. He is the youngest ever member of the Executive Committee, reporting directly to Director General Greg Dyke. The new media division consists of interactive television, BBC Online and a new research and development department called Imagineering, which has been rolled out over the past two months.

BBC Online is an incredible achievement and the advances made in interactive services are very exciting. I hope my experience, combined with the power of the BBC brand, will be an unbeatable combination.

1994
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Joins Flextech, releases The Doll’s House

Hired

dolls_house__flextech300At Flextech, highfield creates sites for Discovery, Playboy and Parliamentary channels. He builds the business from just himself, to 100 staff. He launches The Doll’s House, an online reality show for the Bravo channel.

It was a number of girls in a house under constant surveillance by webcam. It hit the headlines when, not surprisingly, a visiting boyfriend got caught in bed with one of the girls on webcam.

He successfully invests in the dotcom boom, including the online mapping site MultiMap.com, and the ticketing agency Way Ahead Group.

When I lucked in during the dotcom boom I bought myself a Ferrari.

While at the company he is presented with their “worst dressed man” award.

1993
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Sent to South Africa, works with ANC

Moves Country

Highfield is sent to work in South Africa, where his is employed by the ANC shortly after it is pitched into crisis by the arrest of Winnie Mandela in relation to the death of activist Stompie Moeketsi Seipei. Amid allegations of financial irregularities, Highfield is asked to get the books in order. He employs Olive Mungadze, a Zimbabwean, who is the only female black chartered accountant in sub-Saharan Africa. During the project, Mungadze and Highfield go into a remote Afrikaaner diner in Transkei.

I had never known an entire restaurant stop eating and just turn round and stare at me, a suited white businessman, with Olive, a suited black woman. They just stared at us for the whole dinner. An utterly different world. It was only 1993.

1981
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Attends Elizabeth College

Highfield attends Elizabeth College, a private school in Guernsey. While there his interest in computers is sparked by the BBC Micro, a low-cost computer made for the corporation by Acorn.

It’s a thing that you learned to program and connected up to a television set. The amazing thing now is that they’re all totally useless.

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