The exec who introduced the iPod generation to the BBC 

AS the executive responsible for introducing the BBC’s iPlayer service, Ashley Highfield has a track record that most can only dream of.

Launched on Christmas Day 2007, the BBC’s online catch-up TV service was an instant hit and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

In the first fortnight, viewers downloaded more than 3.5m shows, smashing internal targets. But that figure now seems paltry. Last month saw the catch-up service receive 157m requests for TV and radio programmes; the phrase “I’ll watch it on iPlayer” has become common parlance.

Highfield was known at the BBC for his colourful floral shirts, but he also raised eyebrows with his expenses claims, which included £450 on two iPods and a £1,400 claim for two years of Sky TV.

He had less success at Kangaroo, the commercial on-demand service spearheaded by ITV, the BBC and Channel 4, which he quit for a job at Microsoft after just four months. The project collapsed shortly after.

As a vice-president at Microsoft, he is in charge of the UK’s largest content portal MSN. But those who know him say he is often irritated by the company’s corporatist culture.

Taking the top job at Johnston Press is surely his biggest challenge to date. The firm’s debt pile is over ten times its market cap and it is years behind its competitors when it comes to the web.
Highfield’s appointment suggests the board wants to try something radical. There is no guarantee it will work, although the firm has little option but to try.